Laws of the jungle

The director of the latest walkabout theatre production in Lancaster explains what it takes to turn Williamson Park into the Indian wilds evoked by Rudyard Kipling over 100 years ago

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The Dukes theatre is bringing its award-winning outdoor theatre experience back to Lancaster’s Williamson Park this summer. This year audiences can immerse themselves in Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale The Jungle Book.

Running between late July and late August, the Dukes’ retelling will take over the park in a walkabout performance, recreating the famous settings and characters of Mowgli’s story to delight audiences young and old in the theatre’s Play in the Park tradition, which dates back35 years to 1987, when the company began its summer promenade shows.

The show is directed by Sarah Punshon and written by Andrew Pollard, the creative team behind last year’s Play in the Park, Grimm Tales – an amalgamation of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm.

“It’s a really unique experience and one of the biggest challenges is not getting overawed because you know you’re part of this big tradition,” says Punshon, as she gears up for the opening of her third Play in the Park production. “They’ve been doing shows for over 30 years in Williamson Park and people come and tell you about a show they saw 20 years ago, or one they saw with their kids five years ago. It’s kind of part of people’s family memories, and you want to make something that’s going to really stick inside people’s heads.”

The Dukes is revisiting The Jungle Book, having performed a different adaptation20 years ago. Punshon says that there was a need to make this version feel individual and contemporary.

“Andy’s done an amazing job turning this story that’s over 100 years old into something that’s really moving and relevant now,” she says. “Mowgli’s on his own and he gets welcomed into this community, and – especially with all the things around refugees at the moment – it’s really powerful, it’s really subtly done.”

The Dukes has worked with Lancaster City Council to put on the show and increase capacity, following the lifting of Covid restrictions and new guidance from the local authorities, much to the delight of the cast and crew.

“This year, we are allowed to have slightly bigger audiences but we’re not going as big as we used to a few years back so it will feel a little more intimate than some of those previous shows did. Last year was really stressful because we had an actor and a crucial member of the technical team both go down with Covid during tech week. I’m very much hoping that that won’t happen again this summer and it’ll feel a bit more like normal.”

Aside from the Play in The Park, which will take audience members through sprawling settings of the jungles of India, meeting heroes and villain alike, the Dukes will also be visiting schools, local shops and businesses in Lancaster and Morecambe with Jungle Book workshops with help from sponsors Lancaster Business in Development.

“The kids have lost out on two years of normality. I think it’s really tough being a kid the last couple of years – being a teacher has been really hard – so it’s brilliant the Dukes are taking Jungle Book workshops into schools in the area because everyone needs creativity and joy in their lives.”

The company previously received the UK Theatre Award for Children and Young People for its 2016 Play in the Park production of The Hobbit and Punshon and the team are ambitious to replicate the success.

“You always hope so. I think it’s a gorgeous script and it’s a great team that has pulled together.”

The Jungle Book at Williamson Park runs on Tuesdays-Sundays from 22 July-28 August at 7:15pm (

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