Running Wild, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, review: ‘Michael Morpurgo story with magical puppetry’

Ava Potter as Lilly in Michael Morpurgo's Running Wild. Picture: Johan Persson

Ava Potter as Lilly in Michael Morpurgo's Running Wild. Picture: Johan Persson - Credit: Archant

Reuniting a Michael Morpurgo story with ex-War Horse puppeteers– in the glade-like Regent’s Park theatre - sounded an enticing prospect for a children’s show.

But while Finn Caldwell and Toby Olie’s animal puppetry in this jungle adventure is magical, and the setting couldn’t be bettered, Samuel Adamson’s often clumsy adaptation and Timothy Sheader’s hit and miss production let the project down.

Never one to shy away from tragedy, Morpurgo has unfortunate 11-year-old Will (Lilly in some performances) lose one parent in the Iraq war while the second is swept away in the 2004 Tsunami (this is probably not for under 7’s).

Collectively clicking, bobbing, and waving giant blue silks, a 60-strong chorus create the giant wave that carries all before it as the boy escapes into the Indonesian rainforest on the back of a superbly realised puppet elephant complete with flapping ears and expressive eyes

But keep the hankies handy because the majestic tiger and cute Orangutans that Will befriends are shot by poachers and he’s caged and threatened by gun-toting drunken/white-suited baddies straight out of central casting.

It can be a risk casting child actors, but handed some awkwardly inauthentic pre-teen dialogue and overly talky set-up scenes Will (Joshua Fernandes) was in danger of sounding unsympathetically whiney.

And the choral repetition of key words occasionally grated rather than building tension.

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A life affirming ending as Will meets a Doctor whose life’s work is to protect the animals, was spoiled by some bludgeoningly preachy references to Palm Oil as the root of all evil.

Atmospheric lighting among rustling branches couldn’t make up for the paucity of storytelling.

Running Wild at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Rating: 3/5 stars