I've had to think about this " review" for a while as real life, friends, too much coffee and night shifts have got into the way, but the overwhelming message I need to share about Lolita Chakrabarti's production of LIFE OF PI at the Crucible Theatre is that it is a stunning piece of theatre.
Everyone remembers the film with it's vast Pacific sky set pieces and CGI animals and so it was refreshing to start the play in a bustling, vibrant and colourful Indian zoo and city where a benign giraffe holds centre stage amid the chattering sweet relationships of the Hindi family owners. Through puppetry first seen via the productions like Warhorse and The Lion King, we are introduced to the main animal characters that would play so big a role in the story once the ship transporting the zoo to a new life in Canada sinks and PI (Hiram Abeysekera) is left adrift with an injured zebra, an Orangutan, hyena, and of course a Bengal Tiger.
The staging literally takes your breath away, with PI's hospital bed magically transforming into his lifeboat through an undulating ocean as translucent shimmering flying fish leap out of the water above his head and as boy and Tiger battle for supremacy the audience literally forgets that three men are operating the tiger puppet and the giant cat turns and spins in the confines of the lifeboat.
There is an energy about Life Of PI , on and off the stage. Through word of mouth , The Sheffield audience had heard just how good it is, and by the end of the first half, they were cheering as the Tiger leapt gracefully over PI's head in order to kill the hyena.
It a wonderfully visual piece of theatre and surprisingly for someone who actually hated Warhorse , despite its wonderfully cleaver horse animations, I adored it's Indian themes and energy
Having said this, the small cast of mainly Indian and Asian actors more than balanced the special effects with some lovely performances and Abersekera absolutely stole the show as PI ...bringing a warmth, charm and playfulness his role as a boy intrigued by religion and battered by grief.
At the curtain call the audience stood cheering as one as they apparently have done every night since the production started a couple of weeks ago, and I left smiling at strangers , hoping that the production finds itself to a London audience where it can be appreciated outside South Yorkshire.