THEATRE Review:  Running Wild – Marlowe Theatre Canterbury and touring  

Having dropped in on rehearsals prior to the tour (IP114, Feb/March), I was intrigued to see the production in full and see how the show had evolved from its Regents Park open-air run last year. Although the stage production perhaps lacked the ‘jungle’ feel offered by the open-air surroundings, this touring production more than made up for this through the increased use of stage lighting and effects. This play is based upon a true story about a girl riding an elephant on a beach when the tsunami hit SE Asia on Boxing Day 2004. Sensing the danger, the elephant heads away from the beach and off into the jungle, carrying its young passenger to safety from the on-rushing water, but into new dangers.

Even though I’d seen Oona, the elephant, up close in rehearsal, I was still amazed at the effect she had on stage – powerful and expressive – along with the other animal characters, expertly designed by Gyre & Gimble (the team behind Joey in War Horse), and superbly brought to life by the actors/puppeteers. Special mention for 13-year-old Jemima Bennett, one of the three young actors playing the lead role of Lilly in rotation, who was on stage for almost the entirety of the production and who presented the right blend of bravado and determination to face all the jungle could throw at her.

Running Wild is another fabulous story from Michael Morpurgo, a fast-paced adventure, but with a strong underlying message of animal conservation and poses enough questions to leave children and adults alike with much to ponder. The issues raised offer excellent opportunities for additional learning, with an extensive education pack available for schools.