Review: Tiger and actors burning bright on Sheffield Crucible stage in spectacular show Life of Pi

Life of Pi at the Crucible is quite simply an absolutely stunning piece of storytelling that is also gorgeous to watch.

Wednesday, 3rd July 2019, 12:08 pm
Updated Wednesday, 3rd July 2019, 22:57 pm
Owain Gwynn as Richard Parker the Tiger and Hiran Abeysekera as Pi in Life of Pi

Yann Martell’s best-selling novel has been re-created for the stage using an array of wonderful special effects and heart-stoppingly realistic animal puppets.

But what shines through the whole show are fantastic performances, especially Hiran Abeysekera as the teenage lost boy Pi, who is on stage for almost the entire show.

Hiran Abeysekera stars as Pi in Life of Pi at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

He is vulnerable, funny and captivating, retelling the utterly fantastical story of how he survived a shipwreck that took away his family, marooned for more than 200 days floating at sea.

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But did he really spend all that time fending off a tiger from his father’s zoo, or is his story just a way to cope with the horrors of what people have to do to in order to live?

The story starts in a hospital ward, which is transformed by Tim Hatley’s clever design and Tim Lutkin’s amazing lighting effects into first an Indian zoo and then a lifeboat.

The cast, who are all excellent, move the animal puppets and flotsam and jetsam in the water to create a world that pulls you in beguilingly.

Life-sized puppets including the zebra seen here appear in Life of Pi at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

I am full of admiration for actors Kate Colebrook, Fred Davis and Owain Gwynn, who together create the tiger Richard Parker, making him look convincingly sleek, agile and menacing in what must be a back-breaking job.

A lovely moment when he appears to be able to speak is so wonderfully done and very funny, a sort of cross between Bagheera from Jungle Book and the Tiger Who Came to T ea .

Max Webster's fluid direction makes all the physical theatre and clever design work always in the service of telling the story, rather than being showy for its own sake.

The point when Pi has to dive into the water and disappears right through the stage and resurfaces somewhere else was one of the cleverest things I have seen done in theatre, just like a magic illusion.

There are times when theatre can pull off real magic too and this stunning, moving and dark around the edges story is gloriously one of them.

Life of Pi is at the Crucible Theatre until July 20.

Box office: call 0114 249 6000 or go online at www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk