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Running Wild review at Theatre Royal, Newcastle-upon-Tyne – ‘confident and vibrant’

Darcy Collins, Fred Davis and Romina Hytten in Running Wild at Theatre Royal, Newcastle. Photo: Dan Tsantilis Darcy Collins, Fred Davis and Romina Hytten in Running Wild at Theatre Royal, Newcastle. Photo: Dan Tsantilis
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Adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s novel of the same name and originally staged at London’s Open Air Theatre last year Running Wild is a confident, colourful and vibrant piece of theatre.

The story warns of mass extinction unless we curb our rampant consumerism but while Samuel Anderson’s script loses its way a little in the final scene, it’s an otherwise superb touring production, its many theatrical devices expertly woven together by directors Dale Rooks and Timothy Sheader.

Mourning the loss of her father, who died serving in the Iraq War, nine-year Lilly travels to her mother’s birthplace in Indonesia where she realises her dream of riding on an elephant.

As they walk along the beach, the elephant, named Oona, becomes agitated and runs into the forest, saving Lilly from the oncoming tsunami.

Framing the entire stage, Paul Wills’ bold and strangely beautiful set design is forged from the wreckage of this natural disaster with broken fences, interlocked with corrugated iron and broken surfboards.

The rainforest where Lilly survives tiger attacks, near starvation and poachers over the course of several months is conjured up with trees sculpted expertly from twisted metal and wood.

The main character has been played by both boys and girls and here Jemima Bennett gives a vivacious performance as the plucky Lilly, while Jack Sandle is genuinely chilling as the pitiless palm oil entrepreneur and poacher Mr Anthony who takes her prisoner.

But the the real stars of the show are the puppets that populate the rainforest. Oona the elephant is a spectacular creation, manipulated with dexterity by her three puppeteers. The Sumatran tiger is a thing of beauty, while the orang-utans effortlessly win the affection of the audience, making their fate at the hands of the poachers heartbreaking to watch.

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A confident and vibrant touring production based on Michael Morpurgo’s novel