Theatre review: The Whispering Jungle

Our theatre reviewer, Hannah Hobson, shares her thoughts on The Whispering Jungle by Concrete Youth.

Photo: Mark Kensett

If you haven’t heard of Concrete Youth before, they have been finding accessible ways to make theatre while most of the theatrical community has only been talking about it. This show is the culmination of work they’ve been doing for several years.

From sensory storybooks to education projects, Concrete Youth have been making work for young people and adults with sensory needs that go unmet in most conventional theatre. The Whispering Jungle is a beautiful work of theatre which speaks to so much hard work from this team of creatives to make theatre just a touch more accessible to everyone.

Based in the rainforest, the narrative of The Whispering Jungle follows a turtle, an ape and a bird as they find their home under threat from deforestation. The environmental messaging in the show is subtle and well managed, never overpowering the magic of allowing the audience to bask in the jungle world. We watch the unlikely friendship of these animals and, in some small way, find ourselves included in it.

Photo: Lu Herbert

What is so enchanting about the construction of The Whispering Jungle is that it is a shining example of just how adaptable and inclusive theatre can be. Belle Streeton’s direction is dynamic enough to be involving and engaging but never overwhelming. The result is a warm hug of a show. The cast – Cathy Walker, Sophie Clay and Emily Gray – offer a welcoming hand to an audience who may find theatre tough to access in usual circumstances. There is a patience in the work, a sense of understanding and the space to explore a story in whatever manner the individual can access it.

The show is inherently musical, both in the traditional sense – James Frewer’s score is beautifully melodic, straddling the gap between an anthem and a lullaby – but also in the way that it integrates ASMR and the sounds of the jungle to create a sensory experience. Walking into the theatre feels very much like a relaxing walk in the forest.

The phrase, “the magic of theatre” gets thrown around a lot. I myself have used it more than a few times in my own work. Often, I might talk about stage craft, might reference a particular storytelling turn or trick. In The Whispering Jungle, there is a magic that stretches far beyond the practicalities of excellent stage production. There is a scope to this work which I’m sure we’re only just beginning to see and a magic to the way Concrete Youth is engaging its audience. It is a beautiful thing.

[Hannah Hobson – Theatre reviewer]