Life of Pi – Review – Bradford Alhambra
By Christine Goode, November 2023
I remember taking my young son to see the Ang Lee blockbuster movie version of Life of Pi back in 2012. It was a great film, based on Yann Martel’s 2001 novel of the same name. 2019 saw its triumphant adaptation for the stage by Lolita Chakrabarti and this fantastic production scooped a host of top prizes at the Olivier Awards.
Eager to find out exactly how this literary masterpiece is to be adapted to stage, we head to Bradford Alhambra on a dark and dank evening to find out.
As we enter the auditorium, we see a closed stage. As the curtains dramatically open, the tale begins in a stark hospital where we meet Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) played by Divesh Subaskaran. He’s the sole survivor of a shipwreck, and now struggling with PTSD. Pi starts to tell his incredible tale of survival to two officials from the Japanese Ministry of Transport, who are conducting an enquiry into the shipwreck.
As he begins his tale, we are transported back in time to his family home in Pondicherry, India. Beautiful, warm sunny days, lots of butterflies, monkeys, and even a giraffe all appear as he reminisces of happier days with his family and their business, a small zoo, which houses many exotic animals – in particular a Bengal Tiger called Richard Parker. However, the family decide to leave India, taking the zoo with them as they head by boat for a new life in Canada. Sadly, this ends in a nautical disaster for Pi’s family, leaving him to fight for survival on a lifeboat with some unusual and rather fierce animal companions.
I sit completely absorbed in the tale, whilst marvelling at the animals created by Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell. I’m stunned, too, by an incredible changing set design by Tim Hatley. We watch in wonder as the set changes from a sterile hospital, to a busy Indian village, to an impressive cargo ship, and finally, to a lonely open ocean.
The production doesn’t shy away from depicting the harsher realities of the animal kingdom. There are a few gory scenes, but this commitment to realism adds depth and emotional weight to the narrative. Attention to detail, with clever scenes depicting debris floating in the sea from the shipwreck as Pi and the tiger float along, adds to the overall aesthetic.
This is Subaskaran’s debut role, and he gives an outstanding performance as Pi, delivering emotion, humour, and energy. He is at once vulnerable and courageous and carries the play beautifully. A strong cast of 18, many playing multiple roles, contribute to the overall success of the production, adding depth and diversity. The puppeteers’ skills in bringing the animals to life is a central part of the success of the show, making the storytelling even more engaging and thrilling.
So yes, this adaptation of Life of Pi is an absolute triumph, with superb acting, a breathtaking set design, and outstanding animal puppets, making it an unforgettable theatrical experience.
As the lights come up after the black-out, the audience is on their feet offering rapturous applause, along with some audience members waving 10/10 paddle scores to a well-deserving cast.
‘Life of Pi’ is at Bradford Alhambra untul 11th November