Reviewed by Dave Smith
The Hills Youth Theatre made a good fist of their first production of the year, Mike Carter’s adaptation of the Kipling children’s favourite The Jungle Book. The adaptation takes several elements of the original and shows Mowgli growing up among the jungle animals and facing his challenges there and in the nearby village.
Judy Sampson’s direction of the huge cast of seventy was focused and, in conjunction with Emily Morris’ choreography, allowed many of the young performers to show their strengths.
Young Ned Baulderstone showed much promise as Mowgli. His delivery was uniformly strong and his singing voice had a pleasant tone and secure pitch. His rendition of Nothing Stays the Same at the start of Act 2 was subtle and moving. Importantly, he worked well with the other members of the ensemble.
Ella Heywood-Smith charmed the appreciative audience as the lovable bear, Baloo, and did well to carry the story line through much of the action. Her duet with Mowgli, Baloo’s Boogie-Woogie, was a hit.
Claire Sparrow used her commanding voice to create a sense of menace as Shere Khan, while Nathan Seyd and Indigo Radbone impressed as leaders of the wolf pack. The quartet of Briony Bickerton, Calvin Heath, Cordelia McPherson Smith and Amelia Ramsey operated the large puppet snake, Kaa, with dexterity and conviction. That was a very successful device.
Among the variety of competent chorus groups of wolves, elephants, kites and villagers, the monkeys were extraordinary. They were forever active, exuberant and loudly carried out their excited actions.
In the first Act, the audience was engaged by willingly joining in the songs and movements of several of the ensemble pieces. A charming addition was in the interval when children in the audience who had worn costumes to the performance came on stage to receive small rewards for doing so. That was very much in keeping with the warm and supportive mood created by the young cast during the rest of their performance of The Jungle Book.