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Life of Pi - Royal and Derngate Review

Reviewed by Mark Johnson
Tickets were gifted in return for an honest review.

Yann Martel’s captivating Life of Pi has delighted readers since its 2001 release for which it earned the Man Booker Prize. After a big screen adaption in 2012, a stage version adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti premiered in 2019 at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. 

Photo by Johan Persson.

Having transferred to the West End and winning 5 Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best New Play, the production is now on UK tour. 

The story centres around the titular Pi who we meet recounting his story of his time stranded at sea. It begins with life in the Pondicherry, India where Pi is brought up around him family on their zoo. 

With Pi and his family uprooting for a new life in Canada, they set sail on a cargo ship which sinks in a storm. Pi is the sole survivor of the disaster and finds himself stranded on a lifeboat with an injured zebra, a hyena and a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. This is a story of religion, life, loss and survival and is superbly crafted on stage to engage audiences 

Divesh Subaskaran is tremendously captivating from the start as Pi. He is so watchable and a great raconteur weaving the story together beautifully through the highs and lows of the journey and his time at sea. Any time the pace dips it’s Subaskaran who keeps everything afloat. 

There are some superb supporting performances around Subaskaran. Ralph Birtwell as Father , Goldy Notay as Amma and Vinesh Veerasami are very effecting whilst Sharita Oomeer and Lilian Tsang excel as they listen to Pi recounting of his story. Antony Antunes creates mystery and dark as the Cook.

The design is a visual masterstroke. Tim Hatley’s set and costume root the piece with the combination of Andrzej Goulding’s video design adding to the location setting. The boat is brilliantly imaged with a revolve and projection brings the ocean waves to life.

Tim Lutkin’s lighting design brings warm bright colours in the early scenes, these turn darker and gloomier as the storm approaches. The crashing lighting and waves add to the tense atmosphere that Pi is feeling. 

Photo by Johan Persson

Carolyn Downing’s sound design adds to the emotion which clever effects added throughout the further the visual elements of the production. In Northampton’s Derngate some of the text of the play was lost in the echo of the auditorium. Andrew T. Mackay’s score also drives home the emotions, the highs and lows of the journey that Pi goes through.

In a production surrounded by all the technical achievements it’s the puppets designed by Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes which are the most jaw dropping. Caldwell also is the productions movement director. The skill in bringing the animal characters to life is outstanding. Whether it’s frantic frenetic movement or something much calmer the puppets are held and moved with real believable skill. 

The star in terms of the puppets is, of course, Richard Parker. The menace and presence the design allows for but it’s all down to the team who bring the puppet to life. The roles are shared between a rotating team with Sebastian Goffin, Antony Antunes, Akash Heer, Kate Kennedy-Rose, Aizah Khan, Elan James, Kate Rowsell, Tom Stacy, Peter Twose and Sonya Venugopal all doing stunning work with both Richard Parker and all the puppets throughout the production. 

Life of Pi is a phenomenal spectacle of storytelling which wows the audience through visuals, sound and performance. An adventure not to be missed.


Life Of Pi plays at Royal and Derngate in Northampton until Saturday 6th April 2024. Tickets are available The tour continues with dates booking until 6th July. Full tour dates can be found at

Photo by Johan Persson.

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