Michael Morpurgo’s story Running Wild comes to life with an adaptation by Samuel Adamson. This dramatic children’s tale is told through puppetry as young Lilly is thrown into the unknown after a holiday in Indonesia is brought to a destructive end as the tsunami hits. Lilly is left to find her way through the rainforest with the help of some animal friends including Oona the elephant and Frank the baby orangutang.

Running Wild_credit Dan Tsantilis_2
The Cast of Running Wild. Photo credit for both images: Dan Tsantilis.

What seems to be a calming children’s show turned out to be quite the opposite. Morpurgo is known for his dark moralistic tales, but the stage adaptation takes it to a new level as the harrowing story sucks you in and you become immersed in the character’s progression. While the show is aimed at all ages, its sombre tone lends itself, in my opinion, to older children as the stark reality of the world is evident in this production.

The protagonist Lilly is alternated by three girls – in the show I saw she was played by Jemima Bennett. Lilly carries the whole story on her shoulders as the plot follows her journey through the rainforest with her animal companions. Bennett gives an emotive performance as Lilly as she honestly conveys the distressing mood of the production. The puppeteers supporting her are second to none. Oona the elephant is operated by four performers who provide the utmost realism to this incredible story. The ensemble switch between a selection of animals to depict the vividness of life in the rainforest. Each of the animals comes to life on stage through the diversity of the puppeteers, each providing sound effects for the animals and realistic playful movements to make sure that they are always present and in the action.

The attention to detail in this production is to the credit of directors Timothy Sheader and Dale Rooks, with help of set and costume designer Paul Wills, nothing has been overlooked. The intricate set design makes apparent the destructive nature of the disaster that affects Lilly and her family. What stands out most in this performance is the impressive puppet design and direction by Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié for renowned company Gyre & Gimble. The realistic animal depiction and sensitive movement are at the forefront of this production.

The show carries a strong ethical message throughout regarding the use of palm oil and of illegal poaching. The moral stands with the Cree First Nations’ prophecy stating that once the world is in ruin then the people will realise that they cannot eat money. This creative and spectacular performance will touch your heart in many ways.

Get your tickets for the Marlowe Theatre Canterbury here. Playing until Saturday 3rd June. Tour continues until 10th June 2017.

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