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This is the most spectacular piece of theatre I have had the very great pleasure of seeing at Shrewsbury's Theatre Severn.

Life Of Pi starts modestly with a single bed on an empty hospital ward in Mexico in 1978 but as its occupant tells his shipwrecked tale, the stage is filled with a flowing cavalcade of vibrant colour, beautiful light, magical music and wonderful, wonderful wild animals.

No expense has been spared, no theatrical technique has been overlooked, no emotion has been ignored in this towering elevation of Yann Martel's incredible novel onto the all-embracing stage.

Life Of Pi is quite simply wonderful beyond expectations.

The still small centre of this theatrical storm is a diminutive actor making his professional debut. Dressed in pure white - amidst the chaos of colour - is young, muscular Divesh Subaskaran. He holds the stage remarkably well and plays the innocence of a 17-year-old, exploring the meaning of life, heart-warmingly well; asking the kind of questions we remember asking in our own early quest: 'If there are three religions, why can't I follow them all?'.

Pi's family owns a zoo in Pondicherry. But the mismanagement of the Indian economy has led to food shortages, and footfall is down. His father buys a Bengal Tiger, which arrives with ill considered paperwork proclaiming him to be called Richard Parker. The entrance of the tiger, a hugely impressive life-sized puppet manipulated by three actors - appearing menacingly from the shadows in a wash of exquisite light, is just the first of many breath-takingly memorable moments.

The tiger goes on to eat Pi's pet goat, which signals that this production is going to be 'red in tooth and claw’, with no hint of Disney sentiment. Not for the last time did I look away from puppet savagery.

The new Tiger doesn't attract the extra customers Pi's father had hoped, so he decides to ship the whole zoo (Tiger included) to a new life in Canada. The resultant wreck leaves Pi adrift in a swirling, rain-lashed lifeboat with an injured zebra, an orang outang, a hysterical hyena and the malevolent tiger. How this is so convincingly achieved on stage before our very eyes is a wonder. The visual presentation of a zebra swimming underwater, for example, must leave David Attenborough's film crews in awe. Even actors are manipulated by other actors to build up the desperate catastrophe.

Pi - the sole survivor - is at sea for 227 days and, some time later, officials want to know how he survived. His hospital cross examination is the strand in which the various flash backs are framed. He has, in fact, more than one story to tell,  which gives the officials (and audience) the tricky task of deciding which to believe; romance or rational.

The puppets are fabulous, further developed from the concept first seen in War Horse. They almost appear to have been constructed from chunks of drift wood and the bigger ones have a gymnastic actor embodied within them, whilst others operate kicking limbs and crushing jaws. But the humans' very presence is lost in the constantly moving spectacle. There are amusing moments - the top half of a giraffe, and charming moments - a baby orang-outang clinging to its mother. But the realism of their movement reigns supreme.

The actors playing humans (when not called upon to be the back end of a zebra) operate as a truly selfless ensemble. Ralph Birtwell is a classic caring but not-to-be-crossed father figure. Lilian Tsang is a cold, must-get-the-job-done investigator who wavers just enough as the story reaches its conclusion - and it is proved that bananas do indeed float. And I warmed to Chand Martinez as the promoted-beyond-his-competence Admiral, who is full of completely useless advice. I know his kind well from my own visits to India.

Lolita Chakrabarti's stage adaptation of this captivating story has been a very long time in the making. It premiered five years ago in Sheffield, from whence this revival has arrived. Consequently it is immaculate in design and detail. The atmospheres chase each other across the stage. The co-ordination of light and sound is sheer perfection. The colours are beautiful - pink butterflies alight on deep blue walls and bright lime-green fishes swim through azure seas.

Chakrabarti describes the story as a 'mythological tale of extreme struggle, loneliness, grief and pain'. But what the Sheffield production team has also done is to turn it into a philosophical thing of beauty and love and, above all, supreme theatrical craft.

The fact that productions of this quality can now be seen in Shrewsbury is the very reason we campaigned long and hard for Theatre Severn to be built. You owe it to yourself to go and see it.

Five stars

Reviewed by Chris Eldon Lee at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn on Wednesday 8 May. Life Of Pi continues at the venue until Saturday 11 May.