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Running Wild

© Dan Tsantilis

Crossing the borders again, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the latest Michael Morpurgo stage adaptation, Running Wild at the Norwich Theatre Royal. Despite not being overly familiar with Murpurgo’s work, I knew that I loved animals and stories based on truth and that I have always quite regretted missing War Horse when it was in London so this seemed the perfect way to make it up. 

Originally a novel and based on a true story, it tells of a young 9 year old girl Lilly (as played by Annika Whiston at this performance) who heads to Indonesia with her mum – except this isn’t just another holiday. It’s a chance for a new start, and the chance to ride an elephant called Oona. But then the tsunami hit… 

Oona is in a desperate state of wanting to escape the danger of the beach, so she charges deep into the jungle, with her young rider desperately clinging on. Both end up miles from civilisation; at first there’s wonder, discovery and tree-top adventures amongst the orangutans. But, as thoughts turn to mum left behind on the beach, wild tigers prowl, hunger hits, hunters appear and Lilly must now learn to survive the rainforest.

Targeted as a family show, I was slightly sceptical as to whether I may feel it was a little too ‘young’ for me. However, this wasn’t the case at all as there was a widely diverse audience ranging from about 7 to 70, proving that theatre really is for all. 

For me, this show in particular showcased why it is really important to keep making the theatre accessible to the younger generation – because although I like to think I’m pretty educated on the topics covered within the show, I still had my eyes opened and learnt new information. This show in particular covers some great messages of why it’s important to love and respect our animals and our earth, and that there are some very cruel happenings within the poaching and palm oil industries. I personally think this is a great message and awareness to be sharing with not only the younger audience, but the older audience too. This inspired me to think about how having stories like this told creatively is important to keep and encourage. 

The cast were brilliant, many of whom were predominantly puppeteers or ensemble members playing multiple roles. I really enjoyed the character of Grandma (Liz Crowther), as I just thought she brought that little bit of fun and light-hardheartedness to show that was much needed to breakdown the drama. The unsung hero was definitely those as Oona, because that appears as quite the task and clearly requires a certain skill and control. However, aside from the Elephant, the star of the show was Annika Whiston as Lilly who at just 12 is an incredible talent that was ultimately the driving force of the show (though I’m sure the other two Lilly’s are of equally great talent). 

The technical combination of the set, puppets, costumes, lighting and sound design were a particular highlight for me though; as there was an incredible attention to detail and I was it was truly a spectacle to watch. The animals are beautifully crafted, and it’s easy to find yourself thinking them to be real; and it actually took me approximately 20-30 minutes to realise it was the actors making the animal noises, which proves just how realistic it felt. As for the lighting and sound, it really cleverly and subtly transitions you through the mood of the scene and movements between time. 

Overall, this is a top quality production; and made for a truly beautiful, educational, inspiring, moving and powerful drama that is accessible to audiences of all ages to enjoy. Catch it if you can! 

Running Wild is at the Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday 29th April, before continuing the rest of it’s UK Tour. To book visit theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk. For more information or full list of dates visit www.runningwildlive.co.uk