Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Running Wild

Michael Morpurgo and Samuel Adamson
Children's Touring Partnership with Chichester Festival Theatre and Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
The Lowry
18 April 2017 to 22 April 2017

From the team that brought you War Horse (pretty much) comes this outstanding piece of theatre for children. Michael Morpurgo’s story (inspired by fact) is of a girl called Lilly, on holiday with her mum in Indonesia when the January 2004 tsunami strikes. She happens to be riding a beach elephant called Oona at the time, and the elephant takes her safely into the jungle, where she survives as a kind of ‘wild child’, making friends with orang-utans and braving the perils of a tiger and an alligator.

Her mum is lost, but her grandma from England comes looking for her. Meanwhile Lilly and her young orang-utan friends have been captured by hunters who are in the pay of nasty Mr Anthony, who’s demolishing the rain forest in order to grow palms for oil, and illegally catching and killing wildlife on the side.

The animals are all created by puppeteers (four of them to animate the elephant), and the magic of their skills is half the attraction of the show. It held a mainly young audience entranced on the afternoon I saw it.

The young lead role of Lilly is played by a team of three, one of whom, Jemima Bennett, has been Scout in a tour of To Kill A Mocking Bird. The acting skills on display are absolutely top-class, and I can’t really find a fault in the whole enterprise.


Reviewer: Robert Beale


Comment by David Cunningham

Puppeteers must love Michael Morpurgo as, after War Horse it is hard to imagine his books featuring animals being adapted for the stage without extensive use of puppets. In Running Wild it takes four puppeteers to manipulate Toby Olie’s magnificent Elephant puppet that forms the centrepiece for the play.

Running Wild is a treat for the senses. A thunderous sound system sends the noises of the jungle around the auditorium putting the audience in the centre of the action. Directors Dale Rooks and Timothy Sheader set an intoxicating atmosphere as Lily is swamped by alien experiences with glowing fireflies, masses of fish, a terrifying tiger and some playful apes. The puppets, designed Toby Olie , are a joy to watch .

Although the atmosphere of Running Wild draws in the audience the play is not as dramatic as one might wish. One can imagine that the novel would provide the necessary detail to dramatise Lily’s learning to forage for food but on-stage it amounts to more picturesque playing with the fish puppets. The concluding section becomes a tad preachy in pushing home the environmentalist message.