'Jungle Book' review or 'Awesome trees - but where's the wood?'

Jungle Book (Metta Theatre after Rudyard Kipling)
Southbank Centre - 17th August 2016
Written for Time Out 

I’m lost in the jungle. Metta Theatre have shifted Rudyard Kipling’s classic children’s story onto the streets of London. Baloo is now a beat-boxing bin man, Bagheera a graffiti artist, Shere Khan a street gangster, and jungle-lad Mowgli – a feisty woman and a mean gymnast. They may or may not still be animals; it’s quite hard to tell. There’s such imagination in here, and heaps of brilliant circus and street dancing skills – but it’s also pretty baffling and perhaps a little too edgy (Shere Khan mimics shooting poor Mowgli at one point) for a family crowd. 
Director Poppy Burton-Morgan is trying to push circus into bold new areas – but she hasn’t quite made the leap. Most of the skills on display – trapeze work, pole dancing and beat-boxing – are essentially solo disciplines. That makes it hard for the cast to gel, despite some inspired choreography from ZooNation’s Kendra J Horsburgh.  The styles also clash. Stefan Puxon is a sparky beat boxer but phrases like – ‘To you I’m invisible, a figure derisible’ – fly right over the children’s heads.
There’s a mesmerising pole-dancing routine from Nathalie Alison as sinister snake Kaa – but it doesn’t help the story. After Mowgli (Natalie Nicole James) flees the jungle, she tries to bond with her mother. Endless dance sequences – such as ballroom dancing and ballet - are disrupted as Mowgli struggles to adapt. It’s a neat idea but - once again - goes on for much too long.
The curtain-call is the best ‘scene’ of the night. Freed from having to tell a story, the cast let rip – and tear up the stage with their mad circus and street skills.