Review: Life of Pi, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 14 May 2024

Review: Life of Pi, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 14 May 2024

By Joy McKay.

The Life of Pi is on it’s first UK tour following successful runs of the West End debuting in 2021 and Broadway in 2023 and opened at The Mayflower last night (14 May 2024).

Based on the Booker Prize winning and bestselling novel of the same name by Yann Martel, it has also been made into an Oscar winning film by director Ang Lee.

I read the book back when it was a Booker Prize nominated in 2001, it’s always fun to discover new authors from the list of nominees and as Martel was being raved about I was interested to get my own feel for the hype.

I devoured the book enjoying the characters and locations coming to life in my imagination, especially the wonderful Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger. So much so that despite loving the book, and Martel’s subsequent novel, Self, I have never seen the film. The story is magical, challenging the nature of reality, and I didn’t want the shimmer of Hollywood to spoil my memories.

It was with some intrigue and excitement, but also trepidation then, that I approached The Mayflower for opening night.

Pi, played by Adwitha Arumugam, was instantly likeable, engaging and I was straight away keen to see her retell Pi’s enchanting, tragic and courageous story. The rest of the cast, many performing several roles, really allowed Arumugam to dominate the stage with Pi’s passion for life, whatever it was to hold.

But who really supported Pi’s story were the most incredible puppets. Creatures of all orders were puppeteered with such mastery and whilst being quite impressionistic in appearance were full of life.

Richard Parker (whose appearance I’m happy to share without risk of spoilers as he is on the theatrical poster), I believed was real. Or rather kept forgetting he wasn’t, sprinkled with some kind of Bedknobs and Broomsticks style magic to come alive. The puppeteers were far from hidden, often having multiple people controlling the head, the tail and even the legs from inside, yet they became invisible to me as their skill was so great.

Whether or not you have read the book this is a show worth seeing.

The Life of Pi is a wonderful story and all of the cast and crew did incredible work to bring it to the stage whilst retaining the charm of the book. The puppets will make you gasp with delight, the narrative will make you laugh and possibly cry. And you will leave considering what is truth and whether it should ever stand in the way of a good story.

Tickets for Life of Pi, which runs until Saturday 18 May 2024, are on sale at or 02380 711811.

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