Life Of Pi promises astonishing stage spectacle in Chichester

Life Of Pi © Johan PerssonLife Of Pi © Johan Persson
Life Of Pi © Johan Persson
Divesh Subaskaran still finds himself astonished by the brilliant stage spectacle Life Of Pi which comes to Chichester Festival Theatre from Thursday, November 16-Saturday, December 2.

In his professional debut, he’s playing the Pi of the title in a tale adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti from the novel by Yann Martel, directed by Max Webster.

“It's certainly spectacular but my thoughts when I first read the script were how can this become a show. I was taken aback by the writing, by the brilliance of the writing and I loved it but I was thinking how on earth can we make this story work on stage in front of an audience! And now I'm three months into the tour and I'm still amazed by what the show does!

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“To put it simply it's a story about a boy and his family who are migrating somewhere else to live a better life and the ship sinks and he loses his entire family and he's left alone on the lifeboat with four other survivors – a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a Royal Bengal tiger.”

Which sounds unintentionally funny, Divesh concedes: “Yes, I remember seeing a quote about that when was I scrolling through social media or something and it was a quote about when a real tragic experience is zoomed out it can actually be quite comedic and quite funny and I think that is what is happening here. It is a very tragic story but it is also digestible in a comic sense to the audience.

“The boy Pi is certainly a very different character from who I am as a person. He is incredibly curious and he's very philosophical and deep-thinking and I suppose I'm also those things in my own way but maybe that's the thing about acting that you are always surprising yourself. I'm finding other sides to me, and I do think that happens. You surprise yourself when you take on a role that feels slightly further out than you yourself actually are so yes, I'm still learning.

“But the heart of it is that Pi is a survivor. That's a big part of the story which is about how he survives. How he manages to pull through. How he struggles despite all the challenges and how he holds onto his faith and to his hope. It's about what these things mean to us and I think that's what the play is trying to talk about. It is about how what we do resonates with us when we have to pull through something that has happened that is really awful and really difficult to cope with.”

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Part also to the challenge is the fact that Divesh is sharing the stage with puppets and puppeteers: “I'm just amazed how these puppeteers work. They are actors. They embody and they inhabit these animals in such a way that it almost terrifies me. When you're doing mic checks you hear the sounds they are making, how they growl like a tiger or laugh like a hyena. I feel that I'm so privileged and lucky that I get to play this game with these puppeteers and when I'm running around the boat I am running around for real because sometimes they always almost manage to grab hold of an elbow! It's a proper chase!”