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REVIEW: The Jungle Book, Williamson Park, Lancaster

Jason Patel (Mowgli) and Purvi Parmar (Akela) in The Jungle Book. Photos by Gabi Dawkins and Jess Turton

The Jungle Book is a fun-packed adventure for all the family and a roaring success, writes GREG LAMBERT.

This year's Play in the Park is just great, great fun. Big recognisable characters, in-your-face noise effects and visuals, and a Williamson Park setting that's perfect for making you feel that you are actually in the jungle.

The action begins at the lake, moving on into the woods, then to the Ashton Memorial (aka the Temple) with a grand finale in The Dell. Four scenes in total, two in each half. So for a piece of walkabout theatre, there's not a huge amount of actual walking to be done.

But the small number of scenes doesn't slow the pace. Although it takes time to manoeuvre a sound truck and 400-plus audience members into position at each location, impatience never sets in, and there's a constant buzz of eagerness for what's coming next.

Pictured below are Purvi Parmar as Akela and Pushpinder Chani as Bagheera, with baby Mowgli

The five actors put in a shift. At times they race off into the woods for their next costume change, quickly returning as a completely different animal in the same scene, with similar infectious energy.

Jason Patel is a joy as Mowgli. The mischievous man-cub's zest for independence and discovery propels him from one life-threatening situation to another, until inevitably Baloo, Akela and Bagheera rush to the rescue.

Helen Longworth is a loveable delight as Baloo and delivers most of the best lines, Pushpinder Chani a wise and stabilising influence as Bagheera, Purvi Parmar a sinister Kaa and motherly Akela, and Lisa Howard (pictured below) a deliciously OTT villain and perhaps the most 'Joan Collins in Dynasty' version of Shere Khan you'll ever see.

For me, the scene with Kaa the snake steals the show. The giant serpent is a rare sight, a puppet where you visibly see the actors underneath, manipulating its movements with mesmerising menace as it slithers through the woods, casting its spell on Mowgli, Baloo and the watching kids - both small and big.

Elements of panto involve the audience in a clever way that doesn't feel contrived. We are invited to become the wolves who pass judgement on whether Mowgli should join the pack. Baloo (Helen Longworth, pictured below) encourages us to follow the sound of drums to the next scene. Shouts of 'look behind you!' greet the arrival of the manic monkeys who - like in the Disney film - want Mowgli to teach them man-cub secrets.

But don't expect King Louie. That's because this isn't the Disney version. It's an adaptation of the original tale, with brand new songs like 'Jungle Jive' - a catchy and worthy successor to 'Bare Necessities' and 'I Wanna Be Like You'. 

There's comedy, emotion, tragedy and even a very PG fight scene in the shadow of the Ashton Memorial.

And without giving too much away, look out for the fiery finish. A stunt which made Wednesday night's crowd gasp in awe, and a spectacular ending to a roaringly good night out. 

The Jungle Book, presented by The Dukes theatre, continues until August 28. Call 01524 598500 to book.

Related Story: Nine thousand tickets sold as Lancaster's Play in the Park gets under way - Beyond Radio

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