Life of Pi at The Bristol Hippodrome

Posted on: 2024-01-17

Our rating:

A captivating technicolour voyage

On a freezing winter’s night, we took refuge at Bristol Hippodrome and stepped into an immersive, technicolour show that transported us to the heart of adventure.


The play opens in a cold-looking hospital room, where Piscine “Pi” Patel – initially played by charming and mischievous Divesh Subaskaran – is encouraged to tell his story of survival. At the beginning of this tale, the set spectacularly transforms into the family zoo, and we arrive in Pondicherry, India.


This is where the magic of the puppetry for this show becomes instantly clear. If I had any hesitations, they were immediately soothed by the incredible puppet cast of the zoo, from a playful giraffe cameo to the menacing chuckle of the hyena. This is also where we get our first glimpse of Orange Juice the orangutan, and of course, Richard Parker the tiger, artfully manoeuvred by Antony Antunes, Sebastian Goffin, and Romina Hytten.

The Patel family live an idyllic life in India, with the only real source of contention being Pi’s experiments in faith – attending temple, church, and mosque each week to feel closer to God. But as political unrest rises in India, Mr Patel (Ralph Birtwell) decides it’s time to move the family and their zoo to Canada.


A moment to appreciate the set again here, as the vibrant market square where the Patels made the decision to leave India smoothly transforms into a shipping vessel: the Tsimtsum. It’s not a spoiler to mention the shipwreck at this point, given how central it is to the plot of the show, but I was gobsmacked by the lighting and staging of the event. Without a drop of water on stage, the roiling chaos of a sinking ship was clearly conveyed, until it’s just Pi and the surviving animals left on a lifeboat.


I should say that – due to unforeseen circumstances – Keshini Misha replaced Divesh Subaskaran as Pi after the interval. Both actors brought their own energy to the role, and Misha successfully recaptured our attention, despite the minor disruption.

She really found her own during the prolonged sequence where that titular image comes into play – as Pi and Richard Parker must learn to share the lifeboat. Their interactions were gripping and harrowing, and as food and water slowly ran out, they even share a comical conversation. The tragedy of the shipwreck and their prolonged solitude seem to dial up the absurdity of Pi’s situation, and the audience is left to decide how much of the narrative is true and how much is imagined out of self-preservation.


I want to close by mentioning the incredible team of creatives that brought Yann Martel’s 2001 novel to life. In particular, playwright Lolita Chakrabarti, Puppetry and Movement Director Finn Caldwell, Tim Lutkin and Tim Deiling for their fantastic Lighting, and Set and Costume Designer Tim Hatley. They’ve created an astounding show that I would wholeheartedly recommend – it’s the perfect antidote to those long January evenings!

Article by:

Alys Marshall

Alys is a full-time copywriter, avid reader and podcast enthusiast currently based in Henleaze. As a recent transplant from the North, she’s keen to explore everything the South West has to offer, but is especially interested in exploring the food, art and culture scene in Bristol.