The Jungle Book — Circus-Style Thrills Abound in Magnus’ Staging of Rudyard Kipling’s Classic Tale

By Tonya Muchano

From the moment artistic director Thom Currie starts speaking, it’s clear he knows his way around children’s theatre. Having spent his early years touring, directing, and performing theatre for young people all around the globe, it seems fitting that his tenure at Magnus Theatre begins with a classic coming-of-age tale like The Jungle Book. But this unique adaptation, written by Greg Banks, is no ordinary piece of children’s theatre, and under Currie’s direction it is further transformed into a thrilling, circus-like visual spectacle.

“As soon as I read [the script] I thought, let’s push this into the circus realm,” says Currie. “Let’s find people who can do Cirque du Soleil-style performance. The actors are all tumblers, all storytellers.” For example, Kaa, the sibilant, hypnotic snake, is performed by an aerial artist who slithers up and down silks, but never once touches the ground. Joseph Pagnan’s set reinforces the circus-like feel, with an open concept design that has actors climbing through treetops and coming out above and into the audience. The production team has been tapping into the local circus scene as well—they are consulting with Thunder Bay aerial artists to ensure the performers are working safely.

The most remarkable aspect of this particular adaptation is that the entire cast of characters are played by just five actors, with all but the main character—the “man-cub” Mowgli—playing multiple roles and rapidly changing from one to another. This is achieved with simple costuming that relies on key pieces to indicate character. “It’s a piece of physical theatre, a real storytelling play,” explains Currie, and a real challenge for the cast. “The actors must physicalize these animals, while also performing feats of derring-do all over the theatre. It’s going to be something to see.”

The Jungle Book is a whole-family experience appropriate for most ages, although very young children may find it frightening at times. Currie notes that they will be screening the play simultaneously on a monitor in the lobby in case anyone needs to leave the theatre. They will also be holding talk back sessions at the end of every performance, giving audiences the opportunity to meet their favourite characters face to face.

The Jungle Book runs from December 5-17. Tickets are available at the Magnus Theatre box office or online at magnus.on.ca.

Featured image: Georgia Lee Schultz practicing her silk work, photo by Scott Hobbs