[star rating=”4.5″] THE LIFE OF PI. By Jann Martel. Adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti. With Hiran Abeysekera. NT Live series.


Every experience I have had of the National Theatre Live theatre production screenings has been extraordinary and this adaptation of one of my favourite and certainly most traumatic reads ever, The Life of Pi, is no exception. Although, handing myself over to the play and puppet version took most of the first half.

It’s a huge ask, taking a book that lives in the imagination so vividly and then giving it flesh and bones, and in this case puppets, actors and the limits of live performance on stage. And it is almost completely successful, awesome in parts, impressive in scale, beautiful and harrowing too.

Jann Martel’s story is kept intact, and the stage version of it is very true to the book. Hiran Abeysekera as Pi is miraculous. He is physical, emotional, funny, crazed, heart breaking and utterly convincing as he endures the extraordinary retelling of the story of being lost at sea with a tiger for over 200 days.

Total suspension of disbelief

The rest of the cast, including the puppeteers, are fantastic, but offer support really, for the genius of Abeysekera. (I know this might sound a little smug, but South Africa’s puppets and puppeteers I think are better.) The set, with the boat that appears out of the stage, with trapdoors for ‘swimming’, the incredible animation and sound creating the storms, the waves, the sea, the visualisation of puppet killing puppet, are all totally breathtaking and help to put the viewer in total suspension of disbelief. Ironically, that idea is central to the whole story.

I can only imagine what it must be like for someone who has not read the book, to be exposed to the story and its shocking, harrowing twist.

Awesome experience

I had a few niggles with how the production felt a little too artfully shot. At times I longed for a straight, wide, still shot so we could choose what to look at, as if we were watching the stage version.  I think then I would have accepted the bold style of performance and sometimes shouty actors. But these are tiny niggles in what was quite literally an awesome experience.

I am so excited to see more of these NT Live screenings and am grateful that we can see the best of London theatre in a movie house in Cape Town.

What: The Life of Pi

Where and when: Rosebank Nouveau in Johannesburg, Ster-Kinekor Brooklyn in Pretoria, Ster-Kinekor V&A Waterfront in Cape Town and Ster-Kinekor Gateway in Umhlanga on 30 and 31 August at 5.30pm