West Yorkshire Playhouse
11 April 2017
UK Tour Information
Among the best theatrical experiences to be had are the ones that play directly on that childhood bit of the brain that has the ability to imagine; to turn clothes horses into ships, chairs into rockets. The Children’s Touring Partnership’s production of Running Wild, adapted from the novel by Michael Morpurgo, does this with bells on- with bold image-evoking use of lighting and sound plus a tightly choreographed cast, Directors Timothy Sheader and Dale Rooks takes the imagination of the audience into rainforests where they hide from death-hunts, encounter wildlife and drown under the billowing roaring devastation of a tsunami. The strong cast bond these bold physical images with equally powerful emotional ones of bereavement, separation and the fight for survival in an inhospitable environment. A powerful but simple tangle of a set by Paul Wills frames the story with soaring towers of twisted debris, the aftermath of devastation both physical and emotional.
The production boasts two further aces in this telling of this story of loss, survival and responsibility to an environment both hostile and beautiful. A whole menagerie of wildlife is provided by a collection of life-size puppets- star of which has to be Oona the elephant whose aura of believability was such that when she appeared to be shot at the climax to act one I felt it right in the solar plexus. Oona, however, is only one creation amongst a whole ark-full of orang-utans, parrots, fish, crocodiles and tigers who dominated the stage in all their multi-hued snorting farting glory making the imagination of the audience blank out the skilful troop of puppeteers. And binding the whole spectacle together was Annika Whiston who was pitch perfect in energy and emotional as the orphaned Lilly; as well as having to portray the entire spectrum of emotions she had that tricky task of making emotional sense of chunks of story narration.
It almost seems superlative to mention other cast members in what is a truly ensemble piece but mention must be made of Liz Crowther as a cake-wielding Grandma who travels from Devon to Indonesia in search of her missing granddaughter.
In the second act the action ramps up still further as the natural catastrophe is rapidly followed by one that is wholly human in origin in the form of Mr Anthony, the brash uncaring hunter who sees the rainforest and its spectrum of flora and fauna as resources for him to plunder played with an all-too recognisable presidential style arrogance by Jack Sandle. His personification of the issues surrounding despoliation of nature provide a real drive to the action and such was the power of the arguments delivered by both Morpurgo’s novel and Samuel Adamson’s expert dramatization that by the end I wasn’t the only audience member to physically recoil at the familiar sight of a bottle of Palm Oil shampoo.
It was fitting that at the end that Oona the elephant took her own curtain call; it was exactly right for a production that takes that imaginative part of our minds and directs it so powerfully to explore ecological issues that none of us should be ignoring.