Hunting Hills High presents classic charms of Jungle Book

Hunting Hills High School theatre students are gearing up for a fresh, exciting and unique presentation of The Jungle Book.

Performance times are Jan. 31, Feb. 1-2 with curtain at 7:30 p.m. at the Memorial Centre. The Feb. 1-2 shows include a dinner at 6 p.m. at the Festival Hall as well.

The Jungle Book (1894) is a collection of stories by English Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling, and the stories were first published in magazines in 1893–94.

For the Hunting Hills version, artistic director Bill Jacobsen and his son Rob Jacobsen have adapted the classic story into a fresh and stylized production.

Kipling was born in India and spent the first six years of his childhood there. After about 10 years in England, he went back to India and worked for a few years. The Jungle Book stories were written when Kipling lived in Vermont.

The tales in the book are fables, using animals in an anthropomorphic manner to give moral lessons. According to Wikipedia, the best-known of them are the three stories revolving around the adventures of an abandoned ‘man cub’ Mowgli who is raised by wolves in the Indian jungle.

“This is not the Disney version, and it isn’t told in the traditional manner where characters come on and they begin interacting and we watch,” explains Bill. “This production has a chorus of narrators that actually play the role of the jungle, so the jungle is a living, breathing and speaking character as well.

“Certainly in terms of the characterization and the costuming and that sort of work, it’s also quite stylized. Animals aren’t walking on all fours, snakes aren’t crawling on the ground. We’re not hiding that fact that this is a fable of sorts – this is about wolves, bears, snakes and tigers, and all of it is also really about us.”

Bill said it took quite a while to decide how the creative team would approach the production. “We looked through multiple versions when we were trying to decide on one for our show. In most of the versions we looked at, there’s maybe a dozen characters, a lot of combining of the characters into one – that sort of thing – to make it simpler and smaller.”

Numerous staging versions have surfaced over the years, and now that the story is in the public domain, directors have that much more freedom in terms of interpretation.

“Part of the challenge for us is that we didn’t want simpler and smaller – we wanted something that would accommodate 60 people. That’s part of the reason we went the route we did and actually wrote our own version.”

Thus the idea for collaboration on the script.

“I have the wonderful benefit of having a son who just finished his master’s degree in creative writing,” he laughs. “We had picked out a version of the play. We were going to use it, and we were anticipating that we’d have 30 to 35 students in the class.

“But with the incredible success we had with Grease last year, all of a sudden we went from our usual 30 to 35 in our non-musical to 60. The numbers were so big we realized there was no way that would work with the version that we had.

“So we literally ordered copies of The Jungle Book from all over the world. We looked between 9 and 11 different versions of the script and didn’t find any that we either liked or that we thought were appropriate in terms of numbers.”

It came down to continuing to search for the right rendition or changing the script.

“We basically took the book and we tried to follow it very closely, rewriting it in script format. Probably 40 per cent of the play is word for word out of the novel.

“The narration of the jungle, the songs that are sung in the book – we have almost word-for-word in the script.”

Ultimately, stories like The Jungle Book continue to endure and appeal to generations of audiences.

“When we were doing our writing, one of the things we concentrated on was what is this story about? We really viewed that in the story of Mowgli, what we are looking at is a story of a young person trying to figure out where they belong. And that’s a pretty universal story.

“Part of what we wanted to share is that this is about becoming comfortable with who you are.”

Tickets are available at the Hunting Hills High School office or at the door.