Monday, 23 May 2016

Review Running Wild

Running Wild
Adapted by Samuel Adamson
From the novel by Michael Morpurgo

A Family And Other Animals

The herd of humans, collectively known as a theatre audience, showed its usual resilience at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre as the heavens opened. But luckily it passed and even added to the environmental accuracy of park greenery melding with the rain forests of Indonesia for an adaptation by Samuel Adamson of Michael Morpurgo's best-selling children's novel, Running Wild.

On a stage of concentric tree bark rings, we follow the bildung of young Lilly (Ava Potter), left fatherless after her soldier Dad (Ira Mandela Siobhan) is killed in the Iraq War, who travels to Indonesia with her Mum (Hattie Ladbury). Caught up in the tsunami, her life is saved by the beach elephant Oona who senses the impending tidal wave and races inland with the bewildered child on her back.

But Lilly quickly wises up and proves her own resilience and kindness, adapting to her new jungle life, helped in part by her childhood favourite Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book to which her father had introduced her.

It's a tale dramatised somewhat perfunctorily by Adamson and, even with the imaginative staging, such as the sea of undulating blue srips transformed into the tidal waves, at first seems somewhat stretched to fill the capacious Regent's Park stage. But even more of an asset is the triumphant puppetry of Gyre and Gimble's Finn Caldwell and Toby Obié which finally won us over. 

We honestly thought for one heartstopping moment, when the wrinkled grey head of Oona the elephant turned the corner of the theatre entrance and moved towards us, co-directors Timothy Sheader and Dale Rooks had raided nearby London Zoo for a real pachyderm!

And the buffoonery (yes, that really is the collective noun!) of orangutans and the predatory elegant tiger (accompanied by the William Blake verse)  excite awe and poignancy as the story kicks in big-time with a group of poachers led by sleazy Mr Anthony (Stephen Ventura) whose fortune derives from the ecologically disastrous trade in palm oil, as well as the illegal sale of orangutans and other animals.

The character of Lilly becomes Willy in some performances, Potter alternating wiith Joshua Fernandes and Tyler Osborne.While The Jungle Book is in part of manual for life, the translation into twenty first century terms - a condemnation of war, the capture and slaughter of animals and the exploitation of  trees for palm oil - while more than commendable, sometimes dramatically feels rather preachy, probably to the converted.

Still there's plenty of spectacle in the show to enjoy and Lilly is a feisty character for the kids in the audience, especially the girls, to identify with. Plus the relationship of Lilly with the animals is touchingly realised, so an upper level amber light  from we theatre human cubs for the opening play in the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre season. 

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