I’d heard nothing but positive things about the stage version of Yann Martel’s Life Of Pi, which had also won many awards during its London run. This reviewer, granted, took his seat this evening at Cardiff’s Wales Millenium Centre without having read Martell’s novel or seen its first adaption, the 2012 film – but expected superb artistry from its puppetry, the work of Finn Caldwell, whose previous work on War Horse was triumphant.
The story follows Pi, a 17-year-old boy in 1970s India, as his family leave the troubled country for a new life in Canada, along with animals from his family’s zoo. They become shipwrecked, and for 227 days the young Pi finds himself adrift and almost alone – his one companion a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Here’s where the puppetry comes in, and it’s every bit the equal of Joey from War Horse both in design – Richard Parker’s face alone is a work of art – and performance.
Similarly, Tim Hatley’s set design is a marvel. From the initial stark hospital room, the set opens up to depict a zoo, a market in India and the deck of a cargo ship. The production design of this show is, overall, quite stunning. I’ve rarely seen water projected so effectively onstage – from the rain and storm of the shipwreck, to below the waves – here, cast members carry actors and puppets to suggest submersion – to the ocean surface itself. Video designer Andrzej Goulding and lighting designers Tim Lutkin and Tim Deiling add a fresh artistic dimension to the play.
Pi is Divesh Subaskaran’s professional debut, and what a debut. In reality, closer to his mid-twenties, you still believe him as this precocious teen, as well as traumatised survivor. Subaskaran is onstage through the entire show, with the majority of the dialogue to boot, and his delivery of Pi’s more comical lines is beautiful.
Whether you believe Pi’s truth or not, Life Of Pi is stunningly brought to life by an amazing cast and creative team, adding up to beautiful theatre.
Life Of Pi, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Wed 18 Oct
On until Sat 21 Oct. Tickets: £14-£71. Info: here
words CHRIS WILLIAMS