Meet The Team Behind The Tiger in Life of Pi at Newcastle Theatre Royal
In an historic first for the Olivier Awards, in 2022, the seven performers in Life of Pi who puppeteered the tiger were collectively awarded Best Actor in a Supporting Role
What is the route to getting a job playing part of a tiger?
Romina Hytten: I did my first puppet when I was 11 and that was a tiger, which is funny – I have been typecast! I didn’t train at drama school, but I managed to learn on the job and have been inspired by everyone I’ve worked with in the last 10 years, and here I am on Life of Pi.
Akash Heer: When I got the part I was over the moon! I was excited but also shocked because I’m an actor. Movement was an important part of my training, but everything I’ve done has been acting. I auditioned for Life of Pi and took part in a movement workshop, then they invited me back for a puppetry audition. I was quite surprised, but they really liked my movement.
Do you have to master the basics first, before adding your own interpretation?
Romina: It’s incredibly technical when you first pick up a puppet. You have to learn to move in specific ways. This show is very physical, and you have to train your body to cope. You have to learn to breathe and to be the tiger. After you’ve learned all of that and your brain is exploding, you get to a point where you know your teammates so well you can read their minds. You can improvise on stage and that’s so beautiful, that’s when the tiger comes to life.
Akash: They’ve given us the structure but are continuously open for us to explore and discover; you can do that once you’ve got the format down. I think about what my tiger would be like if they were human. I even have a music playlist for my tiger!
How crucial is it to be able to work as a team?
Romina: Each puppeteer brings a different energy, and you have to tune in with them. I did the show for 15 months in London and we were still finding new things right in the last week. We keep learning from each other, and the show gets richer. When you’re in the puppet you can’t tell if what you’re doing looks good, so you have to rely on your teammates to tell you. It’s very collaborative and a lovely way to work.
Akash: Although it’s different bodies creating the movement, you sync and connect with breath. You feel you have connected to other souls, and you are in charge of this beast. You walk forward, you pause, you react, you attack and when everything joins up it’s such an exhilarating feeling.
Are you able to bring your own personality and emotions into your work?
Romina: It’s very collaborative so lots of my ideas have gone into it. There are little tricks you’ve been able to come up with, so if you step off the bed in a particular way it becomes known as the “Romina move” (or whoever the puppeteer is).
Akash: Yes, we have the same scenes, intentions and objectives, but each tiger is different. I’m a tiger that’s more dominant, more ferocious. You’ll have another tiger that is more cautious and observant. I’m so excited to see how my tiger develops over the tour. They encourage us to explore, and it is liberating to know you can add more flavour to your portrayal.
Is it ever difficult to be in full view and yet not be seen?
Romina: When you’re playing a tiger, you’re very fierce and you’re making big tiger roars. I don’t put the energy into my body or into my face but into the puppet. I find it meditative. Also, you can’t look good unless your whole team looks good, so you have to want to be a tiger with your team. When you’re really in sync, that’s when you’ll disappear, and people will just see a tiger on stage.
Akash: I am a 6ft 1in guy and when I’m on stage you do see me. I have learned so much about not overstepping the line: the puppet is the dominant figure, and the puppeteers are part of it. It's such an empowering experience.
After a cargo ship sinks in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, there are five survivors stranded on a single lifeboat – a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, a 16-year-old boy and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. Time is against them, nature is harsh, who will survive?
Life of Pi, a story encompassing a unique blend of adventure, bravery and hope, plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Tuesday 23rd–Saturday 27th January 2024. Tickets can be purchased at theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.
WIN! To be in with a chance of winning a pair of tickets for the opening night of the performance on Tuesday 23rd January 2024, enter our competition here.