REVIEW: Running Wild, Chichester Festival Youth Theatre

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At CASS Sculpture Foundation playing until 16th August.

Written by: Michael Morpurgo. Adapted by: Samuel Adamson

Young Will was riding an elephant called Oona on the beach when the tsunami struck. He survived because Oona had instinctively broken free and charged into the jungle. This beautifully adapted story tells how the animals became his new family in the jungle which was now his home. He was only in Indonesia on that fateful Boxing Day 2004, because he was mourning the loss of his father, killed in Iraq, and now his mother was gone too, one of the many the tsunami claimed that day.

Directed by Dale Rooks, this promenade production takes us to various locations where each scene takes place, but the whole area is transformed with the use of soundscapes and jungle beats all provided by the talented company of Youth Theatre players. They dance, chant and operate the magnificent life size puppets created by Finn Caldwell and Toby Olie. Oona the elephant is so life-like that it is easy to forget she is merely the sum of several parts operated from within. Each movement so carefully choreographed, her character emerges in all its complexity.

Will, whose mantra is ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’, endures much during his jungle adventure. It’s a bravura performance by Alfie Scott, who captures Will’s emotional journey and the resilience of his spirit at each dramatic turn of events. As he makes friends with the orang-utan, sees off a tiger and puts up with Oona’s somewhat flatulent trumpetings, little does he know that more danger is lurking, this time from his fellow man who don ‘t welcome those who get in the way as they plunder the resources of the jungle.

For there is a heavy message here; we are no better than our fellow creatures and it upsets the ecology of our planet when we seek to have dominion over them. It’s an ideology that writer Michael Morpurgo espouses in his writing and in his life – and in this writing of what could be seen as a modern take on Jungle Book lies a plea for us all to open our eyes to the carnage and plundering and how it affects us all.

This is suitable for ages 7 plus, I would nevertheless be wary if you feel your child may be sensitive to its content. You will be walking about a mile altogether, some of it on uneven ground and you certainly can’t expect jungle heat! This highly unusual production is a wonderful way to experience theatre – and is also a reminder of the beauty of the Cass Foundation.

This is a heart-warming and thought provoking production which deserves to take its place amongst the best offerings in the Chichester season.

Margret Covell

Box Office: 01243 781312. www.cft.org.uk.

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