Writer: Michael Morpugo
Adaptor: Samuel Adamson
Director: Timothy Sheader and Dale Rooks
Reviewer: Andrea Allen
For most people, a trip to Indonesia would be the holiday of a lifetime, but for Lilly it’s so much more, it’s the chance to start a clean slate, to discover the place her Mum used to call home and to meet so many more animals than those she sees on Grandma’s farm. The holiday kicks off with the chance to ride Oona the elephant on a white sandy beach, Mum stops behind and waves Lilly off, suddenly something spooks Oona and she runs off into the forest and up, up, up to higher ground. Behind them a huge wave hits the beach, destroying everything in its path, including Mum.
Running Wild is adapted from the Michael Morpurgo novel of the same name. Morpurgo’s inspiration came from a newspaper story that arose in the aftermath of the disaster about a young British boy who survived after an elephant he was riding sensed danger and bolted. The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami pre-dates many of the eyes and ears sitting in the audience, as an adult the presence of so many young sons, daughters and grandchildren in the packed-out Lowry serves as a poignant reminder of the indiscriminate loss of life. Such a catastrophic natural disaster may seem the stuff of fiction for those too young to remember, Running Wild serves as an uplifting reminder that life is there to be lived, a message that is just as important to remember when you’re seven as it is when you’re seventy-seven.
Paul Wills’ haunting canopy of smashed deck chairs, car doors and pulverised resort rubble is an impeccable frame for the puppets of Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié. Such is the detail and intricacy of Oona that the limbs of the four performers required to animate her soon fade into the background, similarly coos and gasps of delight can be heard auditorium-wide when baby orangutan ‘Frankie Lampard’ first arrives on the stage, a testament to the skill of the performers and movement director Georgina Lamb.
This is however, far from a fun romp through the forest. Lilly and Oona’s idyllic jungle adventure soon gives way to a sinister run-in with poachers and a heady confrontation of hunting, deforestation and the brutality of the palm-oil industry. Sheader and Rooks don’t patronise their young audience, and it’s exciting to think of the seeds of inspiration that will continue to grow in their audiences’ minds long after the curtain has fallen.
Given that there’s so much to love, it’s a niggling fact that Running Wild is hampered by a meandering first half, a young audience is usually a telling one, and a fifteen-minute period of elevated fidgeting levels reflected a less than engaged audience. It would also be reasonable to argue that the human characters, While understandably eclipsed by the majestic puppets, fall disappointingly limp.
Running Wild is a thought-provoking feast for the eyes, inviting reflection on the past and discussion of the future from those who are going to be about the longest to see it. It falls short of perfect, but it does a heck of a lot right.
Runs until 22nd April 2017| Image: Contributed