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Life of Pi | Review

By Grace Taylor

Rating: 3.5/5

This article contains spoilers

Image courtesy of Aberdeen Performing Arts

This week, I was invited to review the Broadway and Westend hit Life of Pi at His Majesty's Theatre. As I adored the 2012 movie adaptation, I looked forward to seeing the story play out on the stage.


Based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel of the same name, Life of Pi tells the story of a 17-year-old boy, Pi, who survives over two hundred days on a lifeboat accompanied by a Bengal tiger. Needing to flee India due to political unrest, Pi and his family travel on a cargo ship carrying zoo animals, intending to start a new life in Canada. Disaster strikes when the boat is caught in a violent storm. Separated from his family, Pi is thrown into a lifeboat with only a survival kit and some of the zoo animals. The play follows Pi as he tells the almost unbelievable story to a Japanese investigator.


I cannot fault the beautiful set design and use of visual effects to create Pi's world and life on the boat. I was particularly impressed by how the set designers created the sea through light projections on the stage. The puppets used to create the zoo animals were breathtaking. Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell, the geniuses behind the puppetry creation and movement direction, created a spectacular visual display. A set of talented supporting actors who controlled the animals created realistic movements and animal sounds, which truly brought the puppets to life. However, although the play was mesmerising, I felt the staging and lighting overwhelmed the story and overshadowed the most poignant moments.


I feel the play, while beautiful, failed to capture the original story in its entirety.

Following an incredibly successful film, the stage adaptation falls a little short. The characterisation choices were lacklustre and pale compared to the critically acclaimed film. Pi is the only human character for most of the movie; however, in the play, several actors were present on stage to act out his hallucinations. The choice to have other characters on stage took away from Pi's isolation, and detracted from the importance of the animals, a point which the film handled very well. Pi's philosophical revelations and battles with his faith whilst on the boat were also lost in a sea of audio and visual effects. Pi’s religious beliefs are pivotal to the original story but, in the play, his devotion to multiple faiths is used for laughs. The script's choice to prioritise comedy at the expense of vital character development took away from the critical characterisation of Pi.

Image courtesy of Aberdeen Performing Arts

At the end of the play, Pi admits the truth about his time at sea, revealing that the tiger stuck with him on the lifeboat was actually Pi's imaginary alter ego. Pi then asks the investigator to decide which story she prefers— a question which symbolises Pi’s immense bravery and courage. However, the play’s decision to change some of the interactions between Pi and the tiger left a confusing narrative. I was not convinced in the end that Pi would have been able to survive for two hundred days on his own.


For someone unfamiliar with the novel or movie, the storyline could have been confusing in the final scenes of the play. Although the book does not wholly translate onto the stage, I do value this play for what it offers in terms of entertainment and unique visuals.


Tickets in Aberdeen are on sale until 3rd February, starting at £24.


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