Life of Pi on stage: the ‘spiritual successor to War Horse’

What the critics are saying about this ‘phenomenal’ adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel

Hiran Abeysekera on stage with a puppet
Hiran Abeysekera: a captivating performance

“If a tale is told well enough, it can make us believe anything,” said Tim Bano in The Stage – as this “phenomenal” adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel amply demonstrates. It is so sublimely, brilliantly, dazzlingly told that it makes us believe that a boy (named Pi) and a Bengal tiger can cross the Pacific on a raft and live to tell the tale.

Adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti and directed by Max Webster, the show is the “spiritual successor to War Horse” – a “divine balance of minimalism and maximalism: of puppetry, magic, projections, lights and music on the one hand, and simple, crystalline storytelling on the other”.

The animal puppets created by Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes are “eerily lifelike”, said Annabel Nugent in The Independent. Giraffes swoop their windy necks low. Goats buck and shake with cheeky personality. When a gust of butterflies flutter on stage, “you can almost see the air shifting beneath their wings”. The tiger himself, operated by three puppeteers, is “astounding”. Each flick of the tail feels utterly real; and when he “leaps in attack, the theatre shakes”.

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The animals are “exquisite”, agreed Arifa Akbar in The Guardian; and the visual effects and projections are magical too – but “the script and characterisation are flat-footed by comparison”, and there’s little room given to Pi’s existential rumination, which is crucial to his tale.

Still, what you lose in “metaphysical questioning, you gain in the astonishing, constantly surprising magic” of the show’s theatricality, said David Benedict in Variety. Design, sound and lighting all work in stunning concert, along with “ravishingly suggestive, light-touch video work”.

And there’s a captivating central performance from Hiran Abeysekera as Pi. “Lean, brighteyed and startlingly dynamic, he leaps and lunges, cavorts and cries his way through the role with dazzling ease.” Pi’s journey from Pondicherry to Canada was 227 days. This production’s run is likely to be much longer than that.

Wyndham’s Theatre WC2. Until 27 February

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