A high-energy, grime and hip-hop infused adaptation that shows just how important community is.

© Mary Melodies

Over a century ago, Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book. A collection of stories about the animals living within a forest in India, and a boy or ‘man-cub’ named Mowgli. Since the stories were first written in 1894 they have seen countless adaptations, famously including multiple Walt Disney films. Although I’m not sure the story has ever has an urban makeover before… but here we are.

HighRise have reinvented the story – swapping the jungle for the harsh realities of city life. The show tackles topics including; gang crime, the housing crisis, the migrant crisis and homelessness. This makes it sound as if the show will be quite intense, but somehow it finds a perfect balance.

The Concrete Jungle Book played at the Edinburgh Festival in 2017 and had a limited run at The Pleasance last year. The show received critical acclaim and it is not difficult to see why. The show is a musical, but influenced by grime, rap, spoken word, reggae and hip hop – it’s a musical with a difference.

Unfortunately due to Covid cases within the company, the previews of the show which were due to take place last week, had to be cancelled. This meant that opening night was press night! And it wasn’t without its drama either, with the lead sustaining an injury on the day! But the whole company pulled together, covering roles as needed – and not one line or move was missed! I fully commend them for this as its no mean feat!

© Alex Brenner

As soon as we entered the Pleasance’s main house, there was hip-hop and grime music playing as we found our seats and a hype man warming us up ready for the show to begin. He announced to us that Priti Patel would be playing The Wizard of Oz in tonight’s performance!

We meet Mo, who was abandoned as a baby. The story follows Mo as she faces rejection from Bagheera, her big brother figure and runs away, sleeping rough on the streets. Lauryn Louise played Mo, due to Nicky Rose Roshini being indisposed. Louise’s voice is incredible and she really shined upon the stage. If you hadn’t been told, I think you would have assumed this was Louise’s usual role, with her performance coming across as effortless.

The best performances of the night for me, came from Joseph RA Lindsay, providing some gut-wrenching scenes and incredibly rapping skills. A special mention to Michael Mbozo is also deserved as he was hilarious in the role of Kaa and his musical talents are phenomenal. Oh and Jack Boal’s Louie Slippaz is incredibly funny!

To save opening night many roles had to be covered, which included Assistant Director Fahd Shaft stepping in to cover two ensemble tracks. This is the epitome of the show must go on, and we love to see it!

There were some aspects that require a bit of work, the sound tech missed the cues a few times, so the mics weren’t turned on when a cast member began rapping/ singing etc. And some of the vocals were flat at times, but with the amount that the company has contended with to make it to opening night, the benefit of the doubt is given here.

The costuming during the show was great, the outfits were subtle yet very effective. Throughout you knew exactly who the character was and the animal they were. Tracksuits were worn with ears or animal print to represent the animal being portrayed.

© Alex Brenner

Where this production really wins is with the music. It was insanely good throughout the show, the grime tracks were especially good. The cast performed the music with high energy levels throughout and I would have purchased a cast recording immediately, had it been on offer.

The Concrete Jungle Book, is the classic tale as you’ve never seen it before. It’s mind boggling how a tale about jungle animals written in 1894 can be relatable to audiences in 2022. But this adaptation is fresh, high-energy and thought provoking. It tackles some massively important topics within the show, but ultimately provides a great fun night out, with incredible music! Hopefully this isn’t the last we see of HighRise’s show!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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