Standing ovation for Life of Pi theatre show at Sheffield Crucible

Owain Gwynn, Richard Parker the Tiger and Hiran Abeysekera in Life of Pi. Photo by Johan Persson.
Owain Gwynn, Richard Parker the Tiger and Hiran Abeysekera in Life of Pi. Photo by Johan Persson.

A stage version of Yann Martel’s extraordinary novel Life of Pi has opened at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, writes Alan Payne.

Adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti and directed by Max Webster, it’s the story of a young man adrift in a lifeboat with a tiger, a zebra, an orang-outang and a hyena. There’s nothing whimsical about this. The complex relationship between human beings and other animals is just one of many strands which make for a fascinating and compelling experience.

A fluid design and the inventive use of video technology enable the audience to be transported back and forth between the lifeboat and a hospital room where Pi, recovering from multiple traumas, is being interviewed by a pair of sceptical officials.

Pi is played by Hiran Abeysekera with an engaging mixture of naivety and intellectual curiosity. In the opening scenes we are introduced to his family

and figures in the wider community – relationships which will help to sustain him in his ordeal at sea.

Tension builds throughout, as the competing stories of religion and science, myth and rationality collide and explode. Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes are responsible for the puppets. Owain Gwynn and Kate Colebrook operate the one that brings Richard Parker, the tiger, to life, in a breath-taking, phantasmagoric way that no one who sees this play will ever forget.

At the end the audience rose to acclaim both the cast and the production team.

Life of Pi is on until July 20.