The atmospheric jungle sounds gave way to a low humming as members of The Courtyard’s Youth Theatre took their place on the stage.  The wolves and monkeys crouched down, while the principal characters took centre stage and began the opening number.

The set looked absolutely fantastic with lashings of green coming down from the rafters, impressive ruined Indian temples and vivid jungle flowers, and the cast all had very impressive costumes. 

The show follows Mowgli’s progression from baby to a boy in the care of wolf parents, Akela and Raksha (played by Ryan Hill and Megan Harrison respectively) who fight to keep him under their guardianship, in the face of the angry cries of the lame tiger, Shere Khan (Matt Lawrence) and his menacing sidekick Tabaqui the Jackal, played with manic and evil conviction by Izzy Harrison. 

The wolves plead for help to protect Mowgli and teach him the ways of the jungle, and Bagheera, the dark, mysterious and confident panther (played by Ellie Bailey) and the knowledgeable and lovable brown bear, Baloo (Olivia Cargill) pledge their allegiance, and attempt to teach Mowgli the jungle ways, but the boy, a convincing performance by Dan Wassell, grows restless and inquisitive and despite Baloo’s warnings, he takes off with the mischievous and unruly monkey people, the Bandar-log. 

The Monkey song was a real highlight of the show, with hoodie-wearing monkeys throwing bananas at Mowgli.  Under the leadership of primate trio, Ban, Luna and Tak (played by Jonah Sheridan, Callum Ashton and Zakk Kaye), Mowgli soon learns that with the monkey people there are no rules, and that it is impossible to live in a society where there is no responsibility or honesty. 

He attempts to leave, until the monkey people treat him to an unwelcome surprise in the shape of Shere Khan, but help is at hand, as Bagheera and Baloo, predicting disaster, have enlisted the help of constrictor python Kaa, who strikes fear into the monkeys. Famished with hunger, Kaa, one of the most dramatically clever and effective characters, entrances the three leading monkeys in a hunger dance.   Kaa was played by Molly Heathcote, Phoebe Mills and Teagan Mellville, who spoke, hissed, flowed and moved in unison flawlessly.

The second half sees Mowgli’s reunion with the world of man, as he encounters a woman called Messua, who confides to the audience that her son was snatched as a baby from her by a tiger. 

It’s a poignant reunion, with Tara Purcell as Messua tenderly portraying the grief of losing her child, unaware of her connection with Mowgli but struck by the inexplicable love she feels for him and he for her. 

After learning about the world of man, and being taught to speak by Messua, there is only one person who can stand in the way of his new-found happiness, the cut-throat hunter Buldeo, who constantly belittles Mowgli . He gets his comeuppance when Buldeo fails to charm the captured Kaa, where Mowgli succeeds.

This was a brilliant achievement by a very talented cast of youngsters.  And as the climactic killing of Shere Khan brought the final number in, it became apparent just how beneficial and beautiful children and theatre are in partnership. 
Applause must go to Rab Handleigh for an infectious and original score, and to Sarah Jane Matthews who choreographed some visually stunning Bollywood routines.  Director David Durant has done a spectacular job in allowing these children to shine with a unique and breathtaking original production of the famous Kipling novel. JB