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Canterbury: Michael Morpurgo's Running Wild comes to the Marlowe Theatre, supporting Born Free Foundation

By Angela Cole

Author Michael Morpurgo’s novel Running Wild comes to life at the Marlowe Theatre as part of the Canterbury Children’s Festival, with life-size puppets from the former associate puppetry directors on War Horse.

When Oona the elephant carries Lilly deep into the jungle moments before the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami hits, at first there’s wonder and tree-top adventures with the orangutans, but, as thoughts turn to her mother, wild tigers and hunger hits, Lilly must learn to survive.

The real-life story was of Amber Owen, then eight, on holiday in Phuket with her mother and stepfather in 2004, which Michael was inspired by when he saw it on the news. She was riding Ning Nong when the elephant pulled away from the receding water: “He ran away and, as the water came in, I was safely on his back. He saved my life,” she said.

India Brown as Lilly with Frank in Running Wild

Michael had longed to write his own novel about a child and an elephant and when he saw Amber's story he was inspired.

“There was the story right there in front of me that I had longed to write – a story that I could create of my own about an elephant and a child and one not connected to Kipling.”

Michael researched elephants, the tsunami, and rainforests and the animals that live there for Running Wild.

Of the stage adaptation he said: “I didn’t think it was adaptable for the stage. I went to see it and it was enchanting, absolutely magical. They had recreated the jungle of Indonesia in this forest, with amazing and ingenious puppets. To see the whole jungle unfold and the child on the back of the elephant was out of this world.”

Running Wild, the adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's book

The production s supporting the Born Free Foundation, set up in 1984 by Virginia McKenna, her late husband Bill Travers and eldest son Will following the death of a teenage elephant in a zoo. She said: “Born Free Foundation’s work is very much in sympathy with the soul of the play and respecting animals. I went to see it last year with two of my grandchildren. It was sensational, so magical and thrilling and we absolutely loved it. It is the most beautiful story...the perfect family show.”

Liz Crowther in the role of Grandma with Oona in Running Wild


Running Wild is at the Marlowe Theatre from Wednesday, May 31, to Saturday, June 3. Tickets cost from £17.25. To book call 01227 787787 or visit marlowetheatre.com. You can also book at runningwildlive.co.uk
For more information on Born Free go to bornfree.org.uk

Virginia McKenna
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