Reviewed by Emma Legge
My companion for tonight (6 June 2017) was my 12 years old son William, having read a lot of Michael Morpurgo books, he was very keen to come.
The show is bought to us by Children’s Touring Partnership whose aim is to produce imaginative, bold and high-quality theatre for children aged 8 years upwards. This age stipulation is simply a guideline, although the show is not for children under the age of 3. As we entered the theatre, William quickly noted all the much younger children and looked almost embarrassed to be there, he quickly imagined the whole show as childish and way too young for a ‘cool’ growing lad like him! However, early on in the production, you realise that the storyline is a deep and layered story, mixing Morpurgo’s fantastic imagination and storytelling with a huge amount of gleamed real life stories from recent years of tragedy, destruction and glimmers of hope in the darkness. In fact, I would say that William was the perfect age to really understand all of the meaning.
The star of this production is a character called Lilly. She is played by 3 different girls throughout the tour and tonight we saw Annika Whiston. Annika blew us away and William was especially wowed by her when he realised she was just his age. I really believe having such a young star in the show helps the young audience relate and concentrate on the meaning behind the play. Lilly is on the stage for the majority of the show and leads us through it with huge emotion. The other star of the show is Oona, the most amazing elephant puppet created by Gyre & Gimble and operated or more I should say, performed by 4 hugely talented actors. There are many other puppets in the show too, all elaborate creations and all of them are performed by wonderful actors who are not hidden at all from our view, it’s obvious that they are puppets, yet in a very short space of time we were drawn into the theatrical magic of the animals’ designs. When Oona and Lilly are being chased by poachers, I was on the edge of my seat, worried that Oona would get hurt. It was William who said, ‘don’t forget Mum, she’s not real!’ When we discussed the puppets after the show I asked William which was his favourite and he, like me, didn’t hesitate at all in naming Oona. I told him I agreed because of her size, her believable and fantastic design and because of the performers that deliver her role so magically, he replied with, ‘yeah and because she farts a lot!’ He’s right, Oona’s farts feature heavily in the production!
The show jumps in scenes in a truly clever way, sometimes with two scenes happening at the same time on the stage. The subject of Lilly’s parents’ death is portrayed in a beautiful way and whilst it had most of us mum’s in tears, the children all seemed to understand and accept it without it distressing them at all. There’s so much of this show that deserves mention and so much that I don’t feel I should divulge as you really must go and see this show yourselves. Morpurgo wrote his novel as a story that must be told, a story that has hidden meaning and the show’s producers have made sure that that message is delivered. You feel Lilly’s need to protect the animals, you see the destruction that mankind is doing in the world and many of us came away with a deep feeling that we must look after our world more. William has now pledged to take palm oil out of his life!
This is the best non-musical show I have ever seen and it’s not just for children at all. I met with friends after the show who had 3 children aged 9, 12 & 14 and the parents felt that their girls were the perfect age for understanding the storyline. Under that age, both of us Mum’s felt the children would enjoy the magic of the puppets but miss some of the meaning behind them. We both also feel that if you were to take younger children, then you must be aware that death is a constant subject throughout it.
This show was powerful and magical. Both William and I commented that it’s one of those productions that happens so quickly, it’s 2 hours with the interval but felt like only a fraction of that time, you are immersed in the story in such a way that time passes in a heartbeat. This show is a display of theatrical magic, puppetry wizardry, young and older talent, and the uniqueness of the theatre combined with a spectacular story by a very talented author. Running Wild is show that I urge you to go and see, William and I came away thrilled by what we had watched, blown away by the talents and both very keen to see the show again.
Tickets cost from £11.50 to £29.50 (booking fees may apply).
Running Wild is at the Wolverhampton Grand from 6-10 June 2017, for more information or to book tickets visit www.grandtheatre.co.uk or call the box office on 01902 429 212.
The Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, Lichfield Street, Wolverhampton, WV1 1DE