The Dukes' Play in the Park - The Jungle Book

by Catherine Brabin

Catherine sits in front of the Ashton Memorial

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend The Dukes’ Play in the Park, a fantastic outdoor theatre experience which takes place every summer at Lancaster's Williamson Park. If you're thinking of going or are just a bit of a theatre-lover like myself and interested to find out more, read on for all my insight into the night!

What is it?

An actor playing Mowgli stands in a wooded glade surrounded by the audience

Every summer The Dukes hosts a run of evening performances in Williamson Park, located about 20 minutes from Lancaster University campus by bus. The shows tend to be adaptations of classic tales - in previous years we've seen the Grimm Tales, Beauty and the Beast and Pinocchio brought to life through original song and puppetry! This year was The Jungle Book's turn, and in the height of our second (or third) heatwave this year, I headed to the park ready to enjoy a magical night among wild creatures and man's famous red flower.

How was it?

The Play in the Park is literally…a play that takes place in the park. But not just in one location! When I arrived, the audience was gathered around the pond accessed through the main gates, and throughout the evening we were stewarded to three new locations to watch each scene unfold – the woods, the monument, and finally, the Dell. Many more prepared audience members than I had brought fold-out chairs and picnic blankets to sit on, something I’d definitely recommend to avoid getting sore from sitting on the floor.

Two photos from different locations within the park show various scenes from the play.

The park really had been transformed into the jungle. The pond was now growing giant lily pads and seemed to have a crocodile infestation! Wooden wind chimes were dotted all over the place, immersing us in the world of the performance even when moving from scene to scene. The monument had become the monkeys’ giant temple, and – my favourite – the Dell was completed with stars, a fire pit to keep us warm as the evening drew in, and aromatic incense which was lovely to catch the scent of as the actors performed.

Two photos show the actors in two locations.

Speaking of the actors – wow! The Play in the Park is a family-oriented event and the script and acting style really reflected this but remained fun for audiences of all ages. Jason Patel playing Mowgli was cheeky and quick-witted, Helen Longworth as Baloo was comedic with a heart of gold, and Lisa Howard as Shere Kahn was scary enough to have the kids screaming "She’s behind you!"

Actors manipulate a giant snake puppet in a wooded glade.

For me, Kaa the snake stole the show, a giant serpentine puppet controlled by three actors, even including a functioning rattle in her tail!

Final words

The sun sets over Morecambe Bay, and is glimpsed through trees.

With lovely warm weather and a glorious sunset, it was the perfect evening to experience some theatre amongst nature. On the night I went, the show ran for 2.5 hours with a 30-minute interval, which felt pretty well-timed to me. Tickets for the show at the time I bought them cost £22.50 for an adult and £15 for a child, so I would recommend them only if you can afford them.

Overall, The Jungle Book made a fun and unique evening out and would be fantastic to see with family or friends. If you manage to catch it before the end of the run – enjoy! And if not, there’s always next year to experience a brand new adaptation of another beloved tale.