The Regents Park Open Air Theatre has returned for the summer season with a spectacular production of Michael Morpurgo’s Running Wild, adapted for stage by Samuel Adamson. This new adaptation is based on an amateur production by the youth theatre of Chichester Festival Theatre and directors Timothy Sheader and Dale Rooks have drawn together a cast of young local actors to recreate the spirit and enthusiasm of that initial production.
The story is fairly simple. A mother and her young child are on holiday in Indonesia during Christmas 2004. The mother is swimming in the sea whilst the child is taking a ride on a beach elephant when the cataclysmic Tsunami overwhelms the beach. The child, still atop Oona the elephant, is carried off into the jungle and into apparent safety. What follows is a Mowgli-style story of survival, of brushes with dangerous animals and worse dangerous human beings.
On opening night the lead Lilly was played by Ava Potter. On alternating nights the gender neutral part is played by Tyler Osborne and Joshua Fernandes as Will. Ava Potter’s star shone brightly. She played the part with boundless energy and a touching vulnerability that belied her age. It was a remarkable performance from one so young.
Her performance is enhanced by a large chorus of local schoolchildren creating atmospheric jungle soundscapes and choreographed movement sequences to echo the gentle movements of the sea which soon changes to reflect the violence of the Tsunami. Huge fabric waves which grow larger and eventually overwhelm the actors and envelop the audience in the stalls give a real sense of the fear, suffocation and overwhelming disaster of that terrible December day. Paul Wills’ excellent design is simple but theatrically effective. Very large bamboo stems line the stage and as the set rotates create a claustrophobic bamboo prison to denote how deep Lilly goes into the dense jungle after her rescue by Oona.
Lilly encounters a variety of animals in the jungle and these exquisitely designed puppets roam the auditorium throughout the show. The puppets are expertly designed by Finn Caldwell and Toby Olie, who created that other Morpurgo puppet smash hit ‘War Horse’. Oona, the elephant is operated by Laura Cubitt, John Leader, Michael Taibi and Ben Thompson who successfully create a galumphing, brave and loving character in their skilful operating of the huge animal.
Running Wild is a hugely entertaining show for children and the young passionate lead actor must surely be an inspiration for those eager little faces in the audience.
Review by Laura-Jane Foley
For Will, going to Indonesia isn’t just another holiday with mum. It’s a new start, and the chance to ride an elephant called Oona. But then the tsunami hit.
Charging deep into the jungle, Oona escapes the beach with her young rider desperately clinging on. Miles from civilisation, at first there’s wonder, discovery and tree-top adventures amongst the orang-utans. But, as thoughts turn to mum left behind on the beach, tigers prowl, hunger hits, and Will must now learn to survive the rainforest. Then come the hunters…
Director – Timothy Sheader & Dale Rooks
Designer – Paul Wills
Puppetry Design and Direction – Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié for Gyre & Gimble
Movement Director – Georgina Lamb
Composer & Music Director – Rod Paton
Sound Score – Nick Powell
Lighting Designer – Paul Anderson
Sound Designer – Nick Lidster for Autograph
Season Associate Director (Voice & Text) – Barbara Houseman
Casting Director – Jessica Ronane CDG
Ensemble Casting – Verity Naughton
Music Director (Performance) – Louise Anna Duggan
Will – Joshua Fernandes
Will – Tyler Osborne
Lilly – Ava Potter
Red Bandana/Mahout – Okorie Chukwu
Granny – Joyce Henderson
Mum/Geraldine – Hattie Ladbury
Grandad/Kaya – Eric Mallett
Dad/Hunter – Ira Mandela Siobhan
Mr Anthony – Stephen Ventura
Oona an elephant –
Laura Cubitt, John Leader, Michael Taibi, Ben Thompson
Mani an orangutan –
Stuart Angell, Sarah Mardel
Charlie an orangutan – Romina Hytten
Tonk an orangutan – Fred Davis
Running Wild at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4NU