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The Whispering Jungle: the whimsical touch of a child’s fantasy

Concrete Youth’s production of The Whispering Jungle was incredibly inspiring, the epitome of magic and inclusivity.


Currently on tour, the show was created a year ago and has received an amazingly positive response from all over. I had the pleasure of watching the show on the 20th of October at Interplay Theatre. The company is focused on inclusivity and making theatre that is accessible to all, particularly for audiences living with PMLD; Profound Multiple Learning Disabilities. The pure joy on the audience’s faces showed the immeasurable happiness brought by the vivid colours, textures and brilliant puppetry of the cast. These multi-sensory aspects of the performance allowed the audience to experience the show in all of its fantastical beauty. If you're curious about the company and any of their other projects, you can find them at www.concreteyouth.co.uk. Their website will navigate you to their productions, their education departments and more!


Directed by Belle Streeton, the story follows the Turtle, the Monkey and the Bird. After introducing themselves through the song, the characters break the fourth wall as they sing “Hello what’s your name?” and allow the audience a sensory connection with the puppets. The Turtle is played by Ewan S Pires and created using a steel tongue drum for the puppets body with wooden fixtures for legs. The audience were encouraged to tap the ‘tongues’ of the drum to create a resonating sound and feel the different textures of the Turtle’s face and body. The Monkey was played by Finne Kebbe and provided the contrast of a soft and fluffy puppet as opposed to the steel Turtle. Lastly, the Bird was played by Laura Kaye Thomson and had feathers made from scrap plastic shopping bags which made a rustling sound as the audience ruffled her feathers. This had a great reception from the audience as it enhanced the sensory experience before the story had even fully begun. The intended audience’s complete awe and joy as they entered the room combined with the performer's active interaction was incredibly special to witness; creating a welcoming space for all.


I believe that in aid of the welcoming atmosphere, the cast was brilliant at engaging with each member of the audience using Makaton. This is a type of sign communication which combines signs, symbols and speech to give more options to converse. This degree of care and attention is clear in Concrete Youth’s approach, making it stand out beautifully from other theatre groups. It was refreshing to watch a show with so much consideration for its audience as a lot of modern theatre treats the audience as subject to their performance. 


Impeccably, the cast’s talents exceed their acting, singing and puppetry as they also played instruments, such as the guitar and cello, as well as the ASMR throughout the show; hence the ‘Whispering’ Jungle. Concrete Youth pioneered ‘The ASMR project’ with findings that fueled this show’s ambition to cater to audiences with PMLD. Ewan, Finne and Laura’s beautiful depiction of friendship, joy and love in the jungle was amplified by their collaboration with other sounds and the set around them. The narrative showed the animals’ care for their home and the experience of it being torn down and taken away from them, as well as how they worked to restore it. While these themes could have been somewhat distressing for audiences, the cast reassured the children that the events portrayed in the show were not real. It was clear to see the comfort in its fiction.


Lu Herbert, the set designer, and the creative team’s hard work and dedication was apparent as soon as you stepped through the doors. The set’s vibrancy and depiction of the natural world through handcrafted pieces worked in harmony with the purposeful lighting, successfully creating a magical relationship with the audience. The lightbulbs above the audience was a perfect replica of the night sky and creatively immersed the children into the story. The audience were also encouraged to explore the set and use the space; this meant there was no pressure of feeling restricted during the show - another small but effective way of increasing accessibility. In addition to the ‘starry sky’, they hung different shades of green pom poms which were placed on the above rigging and around the set. This effectively mirrored the homely connection between the animals and their habitat, which then encouraged the audience to feel the same love for the scene created around them. This relationship to the set was integral later in the story as it is taken away from them. Before this moment however, the scene remained cheery as it was lit with green and turquoise hughes layering the blue and green mesh backdrop of the set. They also used bubble machines to mimic the animals splashing in the lagoon which was especially exciting for the audience; there were smiles all around.


As the narrative developed, we learnt that the set design was even more impressive than we thought. The animal’s home was destroyed by humans in yellow hard hats (also played by Pires, Kebbe and Thomson). The drastic change in scenery was seamless as the vines and tree trunks turned to hooked metal rods and the previous green set pieces placed upstage became red and fiery showing the burning and destruction of their home. This was then amplified by the crackling fire sound playing beneath the dark and sinister music. The lighting also turned to a red wash over both the set and audience, once again immersing them in the story. During the set change, the cast’s diverse acting capacity was evident as each of their demeanors changed from light-hearted, fun and joyful to stern, harmful and intimidating. They then returned to their main character profiles to react to the damage of their home. It was heart-wrenching to witness their distraught as it was also mirrored in the faces of the young children watching. They worried and cared just as much as the animals. It was wonderful to see such an effect of theatre even in a short amount of time. The music turned sombre and melancholic as the characters sang “Our home is gone”. They then brought a crisp and burnt flower for each audience to smell as a smoky scent lingered from the ‘fire’.


The amount of detail and thought put into the adaptability of the set shows the creative team’s passion and talent. As the cast sang about friendship and ‘being stronger together’ they rebuilt their bright and beautiful home. To conclude the performance they thanked the audience and said their goodbyes. Yet another beautiful moment shared between the performers, the creatives and the audience.


Through this performance, Concrete Youth has shown that accessible and inclusive theatre is not restricted by the usual confinements of performance. Instead, it plays into the imagination of the audience as they allow themselves to experience the story, immersed to the fullest extent. The sensory play within the show exhibited the dedication and application of Concrete Youth’s research. The production was a glimpse of hope for inclusive, accessible and creative theatre work for years to come.

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