REVIEW: Life of Pi @The Lyceum

Running at The Lyceum until Saturday 16th September, Sheffield Theatres’ Life of Pi is a spectacular event you won’t want to miss. Lolita Chakrabati’s stage adaptation of the much-loved novel by Yann Martel captures the drama, loss and suffering in this unique story through impressive puppetry and a compelling portrayal of its protagonist, Piscine (Pi) Patel.

The colourful scenes of his happy childhood in Pondicherry, growing up among eccentric relatives and the inhabitants of his father’s zoo, are contrasted sharply with the eerie underwater effects and stark institutional surroundings of later parts of Pi’s journey, bringing real emotion to the surface at several moments for the audience.

Life of Pi

Photo credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Perhaps the most affecting of these was Pi’s eventual recounting of the ‘truth’ (depending on what we choose to believe) of his time at sea; the flatness and brevity of this telling made it all the more harrowing. Just as the novel does for the reader, this production makes its audience yearn for ‘the story with the animals’ to be the real explanation for what happens following the tragic shipwreck, touching on the book’s themes of spirituality, the nature of reality and our perception of it, and the relativity of truth and belief.

There is lightness and joy throughout such ostensibly dark subject matter too, created by the deft balancing act of the show’s young lead, Divesh Subaskaran, who both narrates and heads up the action throughout. It’s hard to believe that Life of Pi is his professional debut having seen such a grounded, memorable and convincing performance alongside his more experienced cast members, including a suitably menacing turn as the ship’s cook from Anthony Antunes and plenty of adept multi-roling throughout, from Pi’s Mexican nurse to Japanese government officials and imaginary sea captains.

Life of Pi

Photo credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Appearing alongside Life of Pi’s human characters, and just as important to the atmosphere and meaning of the production, were the seven puppeteers who brought the animals in the story to life. These included a mischievous goat named Buckingham, endearing orangutan Orange Juice, an intimidating hyena, and of course the majestic Bengal tiger whose fierce nature mirrors Pi’s own thirst for survival aboard their shared lifeboat, comically named Richard Parker but believably dangerous enough to add plenty of suspense.

Their vocalisations and movements gave the impression of living, breathing, hungry wild animals roaming the stage, which is partly what makes this survival story so unusual and powerful – though as Pi’s philosophical father reminds his children, man is the most dangerous animal in the zoo and, depending on which version of Pi’s story you prefer, this ultimately turns out to be the truth.

Tickets for the remainder of the show’s run are available here

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