Writer: Michael Morpurgo
Adaptor: Samuel Adamson
Director: Dale Rooks
Reviewer: Rosanna Sloan
Running Wild, written by acclaimed children’s author Michael Morpurgo, is based on a true story about a boy called Will who is taken deep into the Indonesian rainforest by an elephant called Oona. On holiday, to find some peace after the death of his father, tragedy strikes his family again as the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 hits his and his mother’s holiday destination. Atop an elephant as the waves descend, Will is taken deep into the forest where, as if straight out of his story books, he meets his favourite animals. But Will discovers the forest is just as perilous as the rest of the country as he fights for survival with his only friend Oona.
Chichester Youth Theatre, directed by Dale Rooks, has once again created a magical and inspiring production with Running Wild. Performed as a promenade piece around the Cass Sculpture Foundation, the setting and the style of the performance couldn’t be more perfect, giving the audience a truly special experience of a heart-warming, yet tragic story. Each scene has been careful directed to make the most of its outdoor setting, as has the path from one scene to the next. Characters and puppets expertly sneak in and out of scenes and the feeling that anything could happen is exuded by the artistic decisions, which fully capture the audience and the feeling that they really are in Indonesia and not Chichester.
The audience are often led by a haunting melody or chant performed by a forty plus strong ensemble, who never miss a beat. Every young person involved in this production appears to be as strong and able a performer as the next. Their voices are loud and clear in a difficult setting; they perform with conviction, and are as focussed on each moment of this two hour play as the audience are. Alfie Scott, who plays Will, gives an outstanding performance as we follow him through the jungle; he is a charismatic and intelligent actor who doesn’t let the energy of the show drop for a moment.
The other stars of this production are the puppeteers and their puppets. The various puppets from Oona the elephant, to the orang-utans and tigers are all designed by Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié and they are simply incredible. The textures of each animal invoke a real likeness, and their articulation is very well thought out. This helps the puppeteers understand where the weight of each character is held and as such enables them to move them believability and personality. Oona is a particular marvel, simply because Will sits atop her throughout the show and the puppeteers who hold her enormous frame and control her trunk and face are exceptional.
There are so many special moments in this production to pick out a few seems to do a disservice to the rest. However, the movement of the chorus, directed by Lizzi Gee, evokes a powerful response as they simulate the destruction of the tsunami- rising and falling with the movement of blue cloth, working together to show the tumult and power of this fearful moment in the story. The images and emotions of moments like these will stick with audiences for years to come.
Running Wild is an incredible achievement for all involved and a true gem of a production. I hope as many families as possible will snap up the chance to see this performance and experience something truly memorable together.
Runs until 16th August 2015