Review: Swept away by powerhouse production – Life of Pi at the Sheffield Lyceum

Life of Pi, Sheffield Lyceum, until Saturday, September 16:

I WAS expecting to be impressed by the stage version of Life of Pi.

The theatrical adaptation of Yann Martel’s acclaimed Booker-winning novel - which started out at Sheffield's Crucible in 2019 – has gone on to win Olivier awards in the West End and Tonys on Broadway plus numerous five-star reviews, after all.

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But I didn't anticipate just how swept away – if you'll pardon the pun – I would be by the play about a teenage castaway, which also had a second life second as an Oscar-winning film by Ang Lee.

Recounting his tale of being stranded on a single lifeboat after a cargo ship sinks in the middle of the Pacific ocean, Piscine 'Pi' Patel, claims to have had some ferocious company in the form of several of his family's zoo creatures including a Bengal tiger, a hyena, a zebra, and an orangutang.

Back in South Yorkshire with a three-week stint at the Lyceum, and ahead of a ten-month UK tour, this is a powerhouse production, directed by Max Webster and wrestling with themes of religion, truth, philosophy, hope, faith and, ultimately, personal survival.

Lolita Chakrabarti, who adapted Martel's book, said he had only pointer for her - “the animals have to be dangerous” and so they are, with (animal) nature very much 'red in tooth and claw'.

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Portrayed perfectly by puppeteer and performance artists, who shared roles throughout to operate the animals, tiger Richard Parker in particular is breath-takingly brutal and beautiful.

Pi, meanwhile, reflecting on his epic voyage is at turns sweetly childlike in his delivery but wordly wise in his words.

It is an energetic and exceptional performance by Divesh Subaskaran – and quite hard to believe this is the actor's professional debut.

The stage and lighting design is also captivating – from the clinical setting of Pi's hospital bed to the family's exotic and vibrant zoo and market settings in India.

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But it is perhaps the ocean setting itself that is most eye-catching, with rain storms troubled the waves and glittering shoals of fish and dirty detritus from the ship wreck swimming by our young hero.

Masterful, majestic – and a must-see.