WHEN Life Of Pi was first published in 2001, it became a literary phenomenon, selling millions of copies in many different languages and winning multiple awards, including the prestigious Man Booker Prize.
The global success of Canadian author Yann Martel’s novel immediately led towards thoughts of a live adaptation. Aside from a basic theatre play that was staged, it was thought to be an impossible challenge to bring the captivating story to life, largely because the heartbeat of the story is a young Indian boy trapped on a lifeboat on the Pacific Ocean with a giant Bengal tiger for 227 days.
In terms of films several big named directors like M Night Shyamalan couldn’t convincingly do that because the technology wasn’t available. All that finally changed when Ang Lee was able to create the stunning special effects needed for his 2012 film adaptation, which became a blockbuster hit and won multiple awards, including an Oscar for best director. A huge budget and state of the art special effects were able to make it a visual spectacle. If it was difficult to make a convincing movie version, it was seen as an even more impossible task to turn it into a theatre play. How do you get a tiger, along with a host of other large animals and an ocean believably on stage?
A British production finally figured it out with a 2019 production, which premiered at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. If the film was reliant on the special effects, the theatre version would need to create the world of make believe with a stunning set, good writing, strong performances, and masterful puppetry. Then it was up to British Asian actress turned director Lolita Chakrabarti to stitch everything together.
The ace director rose up to the challenge and was able to effectively tell a story, much of which is set on the ocean with a hungry tiger. Despite receiving great acclaim, the stage show didn’t get the credit it deserved and was prevented from going on an exciting journey by the Covid-19 pandemic. It was then supposed to be staged for a limited run in London’s West End but was such a huge success that it kept getting extended and received further rave reviews. The show then won multiple prestigious theatre awards. A large part of that success was due to deft direction that drew audiences in and made them believe they too were on that journey. They forgot about the animals being puppets and connected with the deep philosophical message of the story. By drawing stand-out performances from the cast Chakrabarti added believability to the story.
After the London run ended, the show was transported to Broadway in New York, which despite being a premier global theatre destination, isn’t known to embrace stories from south Asian culture. Whether it was getting published after being rejected or being turned into an incredible movie and adapted into a theatre play against the odds, Life Of Pi has proved everyone wrong in the past 22 years and did that again in America. The show has become a resounding success and won three Tony Awards.
The unstoppable show will embark on another amazing journey this month, while that America run continues, by embarking on a year-long UK tour. Audiences in England will get to experience the remarkable story of a young man being capsized on a boat with animals and going on a life changing sea voyage, which is not what it seems.
A story that everyone thought was impossible to turn into a live show has become one of the most successful ever theatre shows featuring an Indian protagonist. It is all thanks to a story about surviving the unknown, which has shown that anything is creatively possible.
Life of Pi commences a UK tour at Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield from next Saturday (19) until September 16. Visit www.lifeof pionstage.com for further tour dates