'It's a hit' – five-star reviews for Life of Pi on stage in Sheffield

Life of Pi at Sheffield Crucible

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Johan Persson

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The novel’s famous tiger is brought to life using puppetry

The first major stage version of Life of Pi has been hailed as “unmissable” and “pure theatrical magic” in a string of five-star reviews.

The adaptation of Yann Martel’s best-selling novel has had its premiere at Sheffield’s Crucible theatre.

It is “a stunning show” that takes the audience on “extraordinary journey”, according to The Guardian.

The Stage and The Times also gave out maximum stars, the latter billing it as “nothing less than awe-inspiring”.

The newspaper’s review, by critic Ann Treneman, concluded: “Roar it out: this is a hit.”

The Daily Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish, meanwhile, declared it “a worthy successor to War Horse”.

He wrote: “We’ve been waiting a while for the ‘next’ War Horse – a theatrical phenomenon that can hold a family audience spell-bound, spur the imagination and make the heart race… It looks as though that moment has arrived.”

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Johan Persson

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Life of Pi tells the story of a boy stuck on a lifeboat with a tiger

Cavendish awarded the play four stars, and said that if there’s a shortcoming, “it’s that it leaves you craving more”.

Martel’s Booker Prize-winning novel told the story of a 16-year-old Indian boy who sets off to emigrate with his family, but becomes trapped on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a tiger for company.

It was adapted for the big screen in 2012 in a film directed by Ang Lee, which won the filmmaker one of four Oscars.

The Guardian’s Mark Fisher described the way the new stage show switches between settings as “a triumph of transformative stagecraft”, and praised Hiran Abeysekera’s “superb central performance”.

“If it underplays the novel’s tone of helpless desperation, boredom and privation, it nonetheless does tremendous justice to the author’s imaginative canvas,” he wrote.

In his five-star WhatsOnStage review, Ron Simpson wrote that everything in director Max Webster and playwright Lolita Chakrabarti’s “shrewd and sensitive adaptation works perfectly and much of it astonishes”.

Five more stars were bestowed by Ruth Deller on Broadway World, who said: “That the show manages to conjure up the magic of the novel, grapple with its complex themes and provide a thoroughly enthralling experience in less than two hours’ running time (plus interval) is a testament to the sharpness of the direction.”

And The Stage’s critic John Murphy wrote: “It’s not hard to imagine Life of Pi having a lifespan beyond its short, three-week run at the Crucible. It’s a captivating and thrillingly realised show, suffused with stage magic – a testament to the power of imagination.”

Life of Pi is at Sheffield Crucible until 20 July.


By Ian Youngs, entertainment & arts reporter

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Johan Persson

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Pi is played by Sri Lankan actor Hiran Abeysekera

The audience can’t help get swept along with Pi Patel on his epic journey – helped by a number of brilliant visual moments that take your breath away.

Like when a bustling Indian market cleverly and quickly transforms into the bleak ship carrying Pi and his family to Canada. Like when the ship sinks and you have to check the theatre isn’t sinking too. Like when Pi’s lifeboat rises from the stage, or when he jumps into the “sea” and disappears in a flash.

The stage design and ingenious projections transport you to several different worlds. Then there is the graceful menagerie of puppets, whose handlers mostly blend into the background, and the excellent performance of Hiran Abeysekera.

Director Max Webster has pulled the dazzling stagecraft together masterfully, but perhaps the most difficult job went to Lolita Chakrabarti, who has adapted the novel.

She held the key to whether this show would work or not – and succeeded in filleting the right bits of the book, turning 227 days lost at sea into a dramatic theatrical experience, and doing so while preserving the book’s philosophical heart.

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