Life of Pi review: Visually stunning West End and Broadway hit proves a roaring success in Cornwall

Meet Richard Parker, the tiger, in Life of Pi
-Credit: (Image: Johan Persson)


Before the new-look Hall for Cornwall went through those years of closure and renovation, we were promised the theatre would attract the sort of West End / Broadway spectacles Cornish audiences had been missing due to the size of the auditorium and its limited acoustics and sightlines.

Life of Pi - which runs until Saturday - proves that promise true. It's visually stunning, almost like walking into a film, and is actually a much more satisfying adaptation of Yann Martel's 2001 novel than Ang Lee's movie.

In a nutshell, 17-year-old Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with four other survivors of a shipwreck following a huge storm in the Pacific Ocean. How will she fare living alongside a hyena, zebra, orangutan and a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker? That's it, but it's not it as anyone who has read the book or seen the film will know.

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What follows is a couple of hours of magic realism in which you will instantly believe that really is a tiger stalking the stage, those are luminous fish swarming the boat, that really is a massive giraffe peering in from the side of the stage. The puppeteers add real character to the animals, while the inventive staging of animated backdrops and almost balletic choreography, which enables scenes to switch between life on the lifeboat and Pi's resultant PTSD in hospital, is striking.

Even if you don't like the story - which does fall on the side of twee here and there (if twee can mean a human and tiger sharing a torn-apart turtle for lunch) - just immerse yourself in the hypnotic spectacle.

Pi is played by alternate actors, male and female. On opening night in Truro Adiwitha Arumugam, who only graduated from drama school last year, was a force to be reckoned with, holding the entire show in the palm of her hand. Although some lines are lost in the more excitable moments and there was a bewildering array of accents, from American to cockney, for a family from India, it doesn't detract from a beautiful production, which can flip from humorous to heartbreaking in the swish of a tiger's tail.

This is definitely a show for the whole family. Big themes for the adults - belief or the lack of it, trauma and how we deal with it - while the children will love the vibrancy and the cartoon-come-to-life eye-zapping wonder of it all.