The UK Tour of Michael Morpurgo’s Running Wild is currently in residence at The Lowry, Salford Quays. I went along on the first night of the run to watch the show and discover more about this extraordinary story.
Loosely based on the true story of a girl’s survival of the 2004 Tsunami; Michael Morpurgo’s novel, Running Wild, is a wonderful and inspiring story, brought to life in this award-winning production. Like War Horse before it, Running Wild centres around spectacular life-size puppets and tells a moving story of love, loss and loyalty.
Running Wild tells the story of a girl called Lilly. Following the death of her father, she goes on holiday with her mother to Indonesia. Whilst taking a ride on Oona the elephant Lilly is caught up in the Boxing Day tsunami. Oona, sensing danger suddenly runs from the beach deep into the jungle with Lilly on her back, ultimately saving her life.
The story continues with Lilly’s struggles to find food and survive in the jungle; a confrontation with a beautiful tiger, bonding with a buffoonery (family) of orangutans and a devastating encounter with a group of hunters in the rainforest.
This production of Running Wild is suitable for ages 6+. It’s not always an easy watch and there were times when a tear or two rolled down my cheek. The deaths of both of her parents and the traumatic effects of the tsunami were touched on but thankfully not dwelt upon.
The portrayal of the hunters was unflinching and at times brutal. Running Wild does bang the drum of conservationism and the destruction of rainforests in the pursuit of the production of palm oil. It’s not always subtle, but it is a drum worth banging. If Running Wild helps to raise awareness of the devastation of the rainforests for palm oil, then so much the better.
There were some funny and touching moments too. In particular Lilly playing with Frankie the orangutan and bonding with Oona the elephant.
Lilly, confidently played by 13 year old Jemima Bennett is a talent. She is at the heart of the production and pulls off an accomplished and moving performance. Of course the real star of Running Wild is Oona the elephant, expertly handled by four puppeteers. Oona is incredibly life-like, you just want to reach out and stroke her trunk.
All of the puppet creatures; from the tiger, to the crocodile, the wriggling fish and the family of orangutans are beautifully done. The puppeteers are all fantastic, there but not there, so you focus on the creature and not the puppeteer. Amazing work.
Running Wild is a bold production. It’s not always an easy thing to watch, but ultimately the story is compelling and uplifting. Theatre like this makes you want to read about the subject, look at the products in your bathroom cabinet and do your bit for conservation. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
The UK tour of Running Wild supports the Born Free Foundation’s global elephant conservation projects.
Running Wild has a running time of 90 minutes with a 20 minute interval. It also contains flashing lights and loud bangs.