Theatre Review: Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

A play about redemption and avidly anti-war

Presented by University of Adelaide Theatre Guild

Reviewed May 8th 2021

Nick Fagan knows how to choose a play. This Pulitzer Prize winning play was received with mixed reviews when it played on Broadway and I’m sure this version will be not without its plaudits and its fair share of criticism.

It is a play about redemption and is avidly anti-war. It constantly confronts the audience with its arguments for and against the effects of invasion and the consequence of deposing a dictatorship without adequate supervision of the looting and violence that are the result of human greed and depravity. It comments on destruction, power, the tragedy of war and the effects of violence on our spiritual journey.

It’s funny, confrontational, disturbing, violent, racist, sexist and all the things we are fighting on a daily basis in our current environment. Does it still work? I’m conflicted in my response to the work.

The actors are some of South Australia’s renowned more gifted performers, and there are one or two new comers who make a courageous and sometimes engaging attempt to bring this extraordinary play to life. It will grow into its paws (pardon the pun) but Saturday night’s show had a very shaky start. That all important first scene that sets up the action suffered from a lack of articulation, and at the heart of the scene the Tiger’s story got lost in the mishmash of delivery that saw pace and energy sacrifice the storytelling. As the cast picked up confidence the storytelling became clearer but Act 1 never regained its momentum.  After interval we were allowed into the action, and the pace and energy the first half lacked engaged us and drew us into the piece and propelled the show to its climax.

David Grybowski’s Tiger promises to grow into a hungry predator bent on understanding the great question WHY? Hungry, after death, for knowledge and pursuing the search for a higher being who is the driving force of the universe.

Adam Tuominen gives an intelligent and emotionally clear performance as Tom and is paired with Oliver de Rohan who is articulate and confident in his portrayal of Kev (though the Cook’s Tour of accents before he settled on the one he would use was disconcerting). Nigel Tripodi‘s Musa was a highlight and his journey through the piece was informed and clear.

The supporting cast of Anita Zamberlan Canala, Noah Fernandes and Nadia Talotta playing various roles gave clear and defined performances and added some strong and engaging work to the night.

The set was inventive and interesting. The topiary threatened to steal the show; the script demands it is another actor in the piece and it was very well executed and delivered. The seamless scene changes allowed the action to progress cleanly, Richard Parkhill’s lighting as always enhances the action and storytelling and Heather Jones has put her gifted touch to the costumes and props.

It has been a while since we were allowed back into the theatre and it was great to get a night out in the theatre to see a live show. As I said at the beginning of this review, this show will grow and develop and overcome its first night hiccups. The confidence and clarity that will come as the actors grow in confidence and embrace the exceptional material they have been given the chance to explore is a given. I have to say, please remember we need to hear the words to follow the story and shouting doesn’t always convey anger and power.

A special mention to the clever use of Arabic rap music between scenes. Genius.

Reviewed by Adrian Barnes 

Venue:  Little Theatre, University of Adelaide

                (The Cloisters, Gate 10 off Victoria Drive)                       

Season: Saturday May 8th 2021 7.30pm

Matinee Sunday 9th May 4pm

Thursday to Saturday 13th–15th & 20th–22nd  May 7.30

Duration:  Approx 2 hours (including interval)

Tickets:  Full $25.00 Conc: $20.00

Bookings: https://www.trybooking.com/events/landing?eid=574976&

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