It’s all about the elephant in this visually stunning production.
As with War Horse, Michael Morpurgo’s story about a young girl lost after a tsunami comes alive with puppetry.
When the wave hits, nine-year-old Lilly is taking a ride on Oona the elephant. Fortunately for Lilly, the creature senses danger and promptly runs wild into the jungle, taking Lilly with her.
A touching friendship sees Lilly trade in stories of elephants for the real thing, and learn to protect her animal friends the same way Oona protects her.
But it is Oona who is definitively the star of the show.
Created by Chichester Festival Theatre and the Regents Park Theatre, the life-like attention to detail is so believable, it’s hard to remember Oona is not one being but four actors, skillfully co-ordinating her every move.
Orangutans also feature, and their puppeteers, along with all the cast that seamlessly manipulate the set, become all but invisible in this engrossing story.
Although the play is an adaptation of a children’s book, there’s a great deal of loss and darkness in the script, albeit with a Morpurgeon sensitivity to it.
The tragedy of the tsunami is not shied away from, and danger from humans is never far away.
That said, despite the surprisingly heavy themes and darker insights into human behaviour, the play is a fun one.
Lilly’s naïveté and brash charm hold the storyline and harsh realities are tempered with the kinder side of humanity and the wonder of nature at every turn.
It almost seems unfair to compare the leading ‘human’ cast to their cleverly created animal counterparts, but the stand out performances go to Balvinder Sopal (Lilly’s mum) and Jack Sandle (a villain in the tale).
Jemima Bennett (Lilly) does a grand job of holding the main role in what is a very complex and challenging production.
Her Lilly is a convincing advocate for friends she makes along the way, and we take her side in the fight to save animals from destruction.
It’s an impressivly slick run. Nothing is wasted on the set and the pace moves smoothly and easily between scenes, with no hiccups to speak of or a single hand, foot or trunk out of place.
Everything moves as smoothly as clockwork with the rhythmic movement of the set and sound track, and a few added animal noises from the actors themselves.
It’s all over in a rush, the fast-paced plot switching into the next moment of wonder at ‘something over there’, leaving you feeling that you could have easily sat mesmerised for another half an hour. The only shame is tickets are going just as fast. Running Wild is showing at Chichester Festival Theatre, until Saturday, February 18.
See news: Born Free actress Virginia McKenna joins Michael Morpurgo for charity performance of Running Wild