Running Wild

After the eight record-breaking years of War Horse’s London West End show, it was high expectations for another of Morpurgo’s adaptations. The ingenuity of life-size puppetry was without-a-doubt sure to create a nightly spectacle for the runaway success, so it would be no different for Samuel Adamson’s adaptation of Running Wild, presented by Children’s Touring Partnership.  Coming from Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in May, the crew have done a superb job on altering the show to be apt for an indoor auditorium. Originally produced by Chichester Festival Theatre in 2015, this new co-production with Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre can be seen now across the UK.

Inspired by the real-life story of Amber Owen and her family holiday in Phuket, the story looks at little girl Lilly, who seeks a new start and a chance to ride an elephant along the Indonesian beaches. But then the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hits, and Oona the elephant adventures into the depths of the jungle with Lilly on her back, seeking solace and safety. At first there is joy and wonder at the beauty that surrounds Lilly, meeting an array of animals: Orangutans, tigers and alligators, but the arrival of hunters changes the course of Lilly’s journey. Leaving her family and civilisation behind, Lilly discovers the importance of the planet and how to survive in the rainforest. The focus being on the vulnerability of wild animals, the lesson on the harms of palm oil came almost as a second thought, creating a slightly unwieldy narrative in this aspect. Nonetheless, we are still taken on an eye-opening journey on the impact we have as a society to defenceless ecosystems around the world.

The spectacular portrayal of the honourable Indonesian animals through masterful puppetry directed by Finn Caldwell and Toby Olie creates constantly changing jungle scenes from towering tsunamis to forest fires. Paired with kaleidoscopic light design, unswerving soundscape and bold imagery made by the ensemble cast, it makes for an immersive and visceral experience for all the audience. The puppeteers suspend disbelief, making the animals move, breathe and portray emotion that would otherwise be unthinkable for inanimate objects.

The show has the capacity to make the audience see through youthful eyes once more. Translated beautifully from book to play, Running Wild captures the innocence of childhood, before the world tarnishes and warps our image of what is true and placing importance on our own good instead of our fellow creatures who we have come to see as lesser than ourselves. Carrying the show, twelve-year-old Annika Whiston captures the curiosity and awe that is needed for this animal menagerie. Her strength and bravery against the poachers and their remorseless advance was a refreshing watch. Acclamation is necessary for her ability to act off of the inanimate puppets with such liveliness and strength.

Focusing on the instinct and social behaviour of animals, Running Wild balances the story of an epic adventure alongside a plea for threatened and endangered species beautifully. Not shying away from the brutality towards animals, whilst still keeping the magic for children, this is a show for all of the family.

Running Wild will be at Norwich Theatre Royal 25th-29th April


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August 2022
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