Running Wild

Theatre, West End
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Ava Potter as Lilly and Oona

 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Ava Potter and Eric Mallett as Lilly and Kaya

 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Ava Potter as Lilly and Oona

 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Ava Potter as Lilly with the Orang-utans

 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Hattie Ladbury

 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Mani (with Stuart Angell and Sarah Mardel)

Amazing puppets and a bit of preachiness in this fun family Michael Morpurgo adaptation

This fairy-lit stage in Regent’s Park is one of the prettiest theatres in the world, and deserves to be on everyone’s summer night bucket list. It’s also given thousands of London kids their first intro to theatre. This year’s family-friendly season opener is based on a conservationist novel by ubiquitous kids writer Michael Morpurgo, AKA the social conscience of our tweenage nation. It’s a crowdpleaser, mainly thanks to inspiring and energetic staging, namely some amazing puppet animals: an elephant, a tiger and a whole buffoonery of orangutangs (that’s their official collective noun and they live up to it). They’re brought to beautifully articulated life by worldclass ‘War Horse’ puppeteers Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié and, as you’d expect from these guys, they’re so lifelike they could have escaped from nearby London Zoo.   

Other aspects of Morpurgo’s novel don’t adapt brilliantly – reading a book and watching a drama are very different experiences and this makes an action-packed but slightly preachy play. It’s about a girl called Lill (or a boy called Will, depending which night you go). Lill loses not one but two parents in consecutive violent accidents which exemplify humanity’s destructive relationship with the planet (her dad drives over a bomb while soldiering in Iraq; her mum goes swimming in an Indonesian tsunami). Personally, I could have done with less of the misery setup and more of the exciting bit where Lill lives wild in the Indonesian jungle, like a modern Mowgli, cared for by a friendly elephant and fighting off the true predators: not tigers but poachers, burning and shooting everything to service humanity’s lust for palm oil, and Shere Khan rugs.  

This story has not one but a whole interconnected series of Points To Make about everything from shampoo production to orangutang conservation: good for the post-show discussion; less good for the show. But it’s got plenty of imagination and drive and is never boring or less than enjoyable. Ava Potter holds it together with a hugely gutsy, sympathetic performance as Lilly. It’s a bold move to try to create a jungle atmosphere on an open air stage in a distinctly non-tropical London wood. And the creative team pulls it off, with some nifty use of textiles and a fantastic ensemble of school kids yawping, drumming, thumping and tsunami-ing their hearts out.

 As for the animals, they are a joy to watch as they lumber, prowl and knuckle across the stage, operated by groups of puppeteers controlling their heads, legs and – in true ‘War Horse’ style – their hearts. Sadly – or maybe happily, given the arguments this story makes for life in the wild – there aren’t any elephants in London zoo. ‘Running Wild’s full sized puppet elephant is not only the absolute star of the show. It’s also – housing market metaphors aside – the closest most of us will ever come to experiencing the jungle in London.

By: Caroline McGinn

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Tastemaker

This was my first time at the Regent’s Open Air theatre and it was fantastic! A total hidden gem in London that I can’t wait to introduce people to. Despite sitting in the first few rows, there didn’t seem to be any seats that offered a bad view, which is probably why even the ‘cheap’ tickets are still a little pricey. Just outside is a bar, a BBQ, a green area to eat lunch you’ve brought with you and freshly made food to order. It was the perfect ‘community vibe’ away from the rest of Regent’s Park which was nice and orderly. Running Wild totally surprised me. I actually thought in the first scene that I may have made a mistake and booked a child’s show but I was wrong. Throughout were really quite serious themes such as death, murder, abandonment, trust and character building which actually could have been quite heavy for kids (it was for me!). Absolutely fantastically staged and beautiful effects that really made use of the outdoors space. The rain even held off! Looking forward to seeing the next one. 

GeorgeX
Tastemaker

This play is such a surprise; I was expecting something too childish, while it is extremely good even for adults.


If you have never been before in Regent Park's Open Theater,  then this is your chance to enjoy Regent Park's surroundings while attending a beautiful jungle themed play.


A play having one night a girl, Lilly, as the main character and the other night a boy, Will, travelling through jungle and facing life's unexpected difficulties through such a positive way. Adaption to stage of the "Running Wild" book of Michael Morpurgo. 

Having seen the little girl acting, I would say that she is charismatic. Excellent direction, set design, vocals; A group of 40 people on stage are delivering an amazing theater play that becomes magical as the sun goes down. All animals across the play are being depicted through excellent designed puppets that will leave you astonished.

Tip to enjoy your night out even more: Bring a blanket, a bottle of wine and finger food; Summer is already here and this is one of the best  ways to enjoy a lovely summer evening out.

 

Paula - ToT
tastemaker

This play turned out to be rather different to what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it nevertheless.  It’s not as child-friendly as I thought  as it covers topics such as war, death and poaching, sometimes in some detail.  However, the puppets are fabulous, especially the elephant - its head was so life-like, it was amazing.  The main child actor is very engaging and you follow his development throughout the play keenly.  A good event on a nice summer’s day!