Review of ‘Life of Pi’: “Shipwrecking-tested”

The most celebrated and awarded stage play of the season continues to mesmerize audiences with its nail-biting story and astounding visuals. Guillermo Názara tells us his thoughts on his return to Life of Pi for the new cast, to let us know if the boat (and illusions) are still afloat.

They say in Spain that “second parts were never good” and though a cast renewal may not be considered as such technically, there’s a bit of truth and relatability applying to it. The highest risk a show takes, from an artistic perspective, when expanding its run is to fall into the creative abyss of acting dullness. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. That phrase has been haunting too many productions for years and years to come – turning masterpieces into mere tourists attractions (commercially, nothing wrong with that), where the performance becomes mechanic and automated and the interpretation gets replaced by a secure recitle of too well-memorised lines.

It’s no secret that Life of Pi has conquered the London scene for a good long period of time – first upon opening, later after becoming an Olivier Award favourite next to its musical competitor, Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club. Featuring a truly imaginative and almost dreamlike appearance through the use of puppetry and projection mapping, the production itself has too many chances not only to be, from inception, a simple foreigner money grabber, but to turn into one after its undisputable box office triumph. That’s why it’s even a bigger relief to know this philosophical deep exploration about human nature tested to the limit is quite the opposite – and above all, that the quality remains as good as the first day I went to review it.

Life of Pi Production Photos New Cast – taken on 7th September 2022 in London

With almost an entirely new cast as for its leads and supportings, it’s also refreshing to see how a different approach from an actor on a particular role (despite the same direction) can definitely make a change. Not better, not worse, but interestingly separated from what the original team brought together every night onstage. The recently settled actors for Life of Pi‘s second season have, with merit, provided another reason to come watch the show again (cuz if you haven’t, you’re really missing on something standing out in a district that already stands out by itself).

Now starring Nuwan Hugh Perera in the title role, I must confess I was, somehow, appalled by the display of cold obnoxiusness he was giving to his part during the first scene. “What’s wrong with him? Why so angry?”, I thought to myself, believing it was his own traits that he was projecting on the character. It would only take two seconds of transition from the bleakness of a decaying Mexican hospital to the wonders of an Indian zoo to observe that façade of harshness crumbling away to reveal the innocent charm of Pi’s younger self. Tha was no angry actor with an attitude giving a portrayal of himself, but somebody who has understood the backstory and evolution a believable accurate performance requires.

This works in perfect combination with Owain Gwynn, Romina Hytten, Elan James, Rebecca Killick, Tom Larkin and Tom Stacy’s blended rendition of the other great lead in this spectacle – the tiger. Nicknamed as Richard Parker, this stunning mixture of puppetry design and coreography excellence still manages to wow me (and probably everybody else in the room) even when already knowing everything that’s going to happen. With a fantastical touch in its looks but the stagerring precision of hyper-realistic animal gestures when set into motion, this three-people onstage endeavour turns what may ignorantly associated to a child’s game to the very top of artistic victory – once again reassuring the title I gave to this piece when first writing about it: raw beauty.

Life of Pi Production Photos New Cast – taken on 7th September 2022 in London

As for the supporting cast, the highest mention goes this time to Sakuntala Ramanee, in the double role of Mrs Biology Kumarf and Zaida Khan, as her effortless presence achieves to draw an appeal to a role that otherwise could have easily been ignored. Ameet Chana, on the contrary, does not give to his role the strenght it needs, as the dominance and tough love Pi’s father must excuse is sadly missing and, at the same time, insisitively calling to be brought back.

Life of Pi is, by all means, a triumph of many sorts – with a triple power to be hold over its audiences: to drag newcomers to the theatre, to entice such beginners to become regulars in the district and to even pull down the cynical mask of self-entitled “experts” to uncover what everyone is to expect by seeing it: a fulfilling sense of amazement. The show wasn’t broken and thus they haven’t fixed it – but certainly they haven’t let it rust either. And the reverie continues to be alive.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Read our review of the original cast here!

Life of Pi plays at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre from Wednesday to Monday. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Názara

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