By: Pramod Thomas
The stage adaptation of Canadian author Yann Martel’s Booker-prize winning novel, Life of Pi, shines a spotlight on messages of faith, perseverance and immigration, and brings south Asian talent to the centre stage in Broadway, the team behind the production said.
Renowned British Asian playwright Lolita Chakrabarti’s stage adaptation of the story of 16-year-old Indian boy Pi (Piscine) Patel – stranded in the ocean on a lifeboat with a Royal Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker – officially opens at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York on March 30.
It brings together an ensemble cast of global actors as well as award-winning puppeteers who bring to life the book’s other main characters – the tiger, hyena, zebra and orangutan – to life on stage.
Chakrabarti said for anyone who has read the book or seen the Ang Lee-directed film, the stage adaptation will be a “totally surprising” experience.
“Because it’s a different kind of experience (compared) to a personal reading of a novel or sitting in a cinema. This requires the audience to be engaged and in the room and discovering the story with us,” Chakrabarti said.
She described the journey of bringing the book to life on stage as “long” and “thrilling” and said she hopes the audiences “travel with us and have an emotional experience that ends in hope.”
Sri Lankan actor Hiran Abeysekera plays the title role of Pi in the Broadway adaptation, while Indian-born actor Mahira Kakkar reprises the role of Pi’s mother and Rajesh Bose makes his Broadway debut and plays Pi’s father.
Abeysekera has won the Olivier Award, Britain’s most prestigious stage honours, for his performance in Life of Pi in the West End production of the play.
He also won the best actor award at Eastern Eye’s Arts, Culture and Theatre Awards in February; the play also won the prize for best production.
With the Broadway adaptation bringing together actors from the Asian and South Asian regions on centre stage in New York, Chakrabarti said she “loves” the message this conveys.
“Because we’re here, we’re always here, not necessarily recognised or celebrated. I hope this is a change. The world is changing fast. This is a universal story for everybody, but in terms of representation, it is thrilling,” she said.
Director Max Webster said the show promises to be a “wonderful entertainment” with humour, emotion and surprise and at the same time “asks really important questions about life, love, faith and family and immigration and how we hold on to meaning in our lives.”
Life of Pi played at Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End where it won five Olivier Awards, including Best New Play, Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design.
Prior to the Broadway engagement, Life of Pi made its north American premiere at the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University.