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Life of Pi, an innovative and exciting production based on Yann Martel’s Man Booker Prize winning novel, visits the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre this week. The play is visually stunning, using puppetry, projection and incredible staging to tell the tale.

Piscine Patel (Pi for short) lives in a joyful world of animals: a zoo, owned by his parents, amid the political turbulence of 1970s India. The family decide to move to Canada with their animals, to relative safety and a new life. Tragedy strikes during the journey, when a storm wrecks the cargo ship they are travelling on.

Pi becomes stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean, with a collection of desperate animals: a zebra, orangutan, hyena and a fearsome Bengal Tiger - bewilderingly named Richard Parker, thanks to a clerical error. The play opens with Pi residing in a hospital ward, telling his remarkable story. Although there are many moments of drama and brutality, there is a lot of humour as well, thanks to Lolita Chakrabarti’s adaptation, combined with Max Webster’s direction.

Pi is played by Divesh Subaskaran, in an absolute tour de force. The role is extremely physically demanding: on top of narrating his own story and seamlessly swapping between past and present, he moves around the stage with fluidity and control - whether buffeted by waves or grappling with a tiger, Subaskaran carries the part effortlessly.

His imposing counterpart is Richard Parker. All the puppets, designed by Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell, are exceptional, but the tiger is spectacular. Operated by at least three puppeteers at all times, they twitch his tail, breathe and prowl with all the visceral power of a real big cat. The talented cast of puppeteers operate a whole menagerie of animals with expert skill and control, under Caldwell’s puppetry and movement direction.

The set morphs in a dream-like way, using whole-stage projection to shift between worlds as if by magic, while Pi recounts his journey. A busy zoo, buffeted cargo ship, or endless starry sky can be conjured up in front of the audience’s eyes, but in a moment it all dissolves back to Pi’s hospital bed.

Life of Pi is a special piece of theatrical storytelling, with every part of the production aligning to create an experience unique to theatre. The cast, puppets, stage design, projection, sound and lighting are all individually impressive, but together they are immersive, exciting, and simply magical.

Life of Pi has rightly won awards and commendations since its debut in 2019, and throughout this UK tour. With only a handful of performances remaining in the Midlands, don’t miss your chance to see this remarkable show.

Five stars

Life of Pi was reviewed by Jessica Clixby on Tuesday 23 April at Wolverhampton Grand where it plays until Saturday 27 April. It also shows at Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury from Tuesday 7 May until Saturday 11 May.