Animal magic

India Brown as Lilly with Oona_credit Dan Tsantilis_3

We look at a stunning adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel Running Wild, coming to our theatre this summer.


If you hear the name Michael Morpurgo, the first thing that probably springs to mind is War Horse – but he’s written a whole body of novels, which have found many fans around the world. One of these is Running Wild, which is now touring after a hugely successful run at Regent’s Park Theatre last summer.

Although, like War Horse, it focuses on the relationship between a young human and an animal, Running Wild is set a long way from the war-torn fields of France. Instead, it deals with the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami, telling the story of Lily, who goes on holiday to Indonesia with her mother. The tsunami hits while Lily is riding an elephant called Oona, who charges into the jungle, with Lily clinging desperately to her back…

Fans of Morpurgo’s novel may have noticed something odd about the description of the plot above.

In the novel, the central character is a boy called Will – so why the gender swap? The story of Running Wild was based on a clipping that the author read, about a child who had been saved from the tsunami by the elephant it was riding at the time the wave hit. At the time, it was reported that the child was a boy, so Morpurgo created Will. But later reports, after the book had been published, confirmed that the child was actually a girl!

India Brown as Lilly with Frank, Baby Orangutan_credit Dan Tsantilis_3

As with War Horse, the animals in the story are brought to life using puppets – in fact the puppetry design and direction comes from two former Associate Puppetry Directors on War Horse. Only instead of horses, in this case we’re dealing with tigers, orang-utans, and, of course, Oona the elephant, Morpurgo’s own favourite: “Elephants are my favourite creatures and have been since I was a boy and my mother read Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child to me. It was loving elephants so much that made we want to write my own story with an elephant at the centre and its bond with a child.”

This epic and spectacular production was a huge hit at Regent’s Park last summer, with The Guardian saying that it had ‘animal magic to rival War Horse,” while The Telegraph described it as “a winner. The puppetry is exquisite, the magic really hits you.”

Running Wild: Wednesday 31 May – Saturday 3 June. To book, see our website.

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