IN his novel A Passage to India, EM Forster asks: “God is Love – is this the final message of India?” A question which is answered, at least partially, in the Central School of Speech and Drama's Life of Pi.
A production which, from baksheesh to its golden banners, brings us all the colour, sights and sounds, if not the smells, of the sub-continent, it is a spectacular show.
Although no stranger to spectacle, for the first time the Central School has collaborated with a professional company, the Bradford-based Twisting Yarn Theatre Company, and the combination has paid off.
The professional presence of Twisting Yarn (the production is directed by Keith Robinson from that company) lends it a stability and sense of purpose that, coupled with the choice of material and its strong story line and good script, makes this one of the best shows yet of the many productions the Central School has presented here.
Refreshingly, even the singing and dancing adds to rather than detracts from, or interrupts, either the ambience, pace or sense of the whole thing.
Based on Andy Rashleigh's adaptation for the stage of Yann Martel's Man Booker prize-winning novel, it tells of the life and times of a young Hindu whose family owns a zoo in Pondicherry, from his early struggles with his name to his emigration to Canada, from shipwreck and survival to his search for faith and understanding among both kinds of animals, those found in the zoo and the human kind.
As instructive as it is entertaining, its Hindu hero, whose one wish is to love God, becomes a Christian and a Muslim, and all before he is 15.
In view of all that is happening in the world today it certainly provides food for thought.
The first of this season's two productions for schools, while its animal puppets, tiger to zebra, orang-utan to hyena, giraffe to meerkat, are splendid and will appeal to children of all ages, with its take on the religions of the world and its messages such as the most dangerous animal on earth is man, and all life is sacred except when one is starving, it is perhaps likely to go down better with the older rather than the younger child.
A production which goes for the jugular, “red in tooth and claw”, and no place for a vegetarian boy who, as played by Tom Wright, is a winner and, in mathematical terms, of 30.14 rather than 3.14 value, it is over-long and would benefit from some gentle and judicious pruning.
However, it left me feeling – By Jesus, Mary, Mohammed, Vishnu, and Richard Parker, tigerishly played for all his worth by Andrew Stevenson, as savage and sincere, as gripping and gory, as it is, it is also very good.