No strings at­tached

The pup­petry of War Horse in­jects the same magic into Run­ning Wild, at West York­shire Play­house next week. Theatre cor­re­spon­dent Nick Ahad re­ports.

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - 4/STAGE -

War Horse: the beau­ti­ful book that it was im­pos­si­ble to adapt for an­other medium – and def­i­nitely not for the stage. Sim­ply wouldn’t work. Ex­cept it did.

The Na­tional Theatre, thanks mainly to the pub­lic fund­ing it receives which al­lows it to ex­per­i­ment and work behind the scenes, spent years de­vel­op­ing War Horse be­fore it took it to the stage and put it in front of an au­di­ence. The re­sults were im­pres­sive and last­ing.

War Horse be­came one of British theatre’s big­gest hits in re­cent years and took the name of theatre made in this coun­try around the world. Brand British Theatre gained enor­mously on a global plat­form thanks to War Horse. Fa­mously the play ver­sion by Nick Stafford based on the book by Michael Mor­purgo has pup­petry at its heart, en­abling the story of Joey the horse, the real hero of the book, to come to life.

A cou­ple of years ago the Na­tional Theatre pro­duc­tion went on tour around the coun­try, vis­it­ing the Brad­ford Al­ham­bra. The theatre in­vited me down to Lon­don to the Na­tional to meet the peo­ple behind the show and the pup­peteers who brought the stars of the play to life.

When Joey walked out to meet us in a room at the Na­tional, the re­ac­tion was re­ally quite ex­tra­or­di­nary. It was a room full of jour­nal­ists, not known for their wide-eyed in­no­cence, into which Joey en­tered. To a man and woman we all be­came boys and girls and were gen­uinely in awe that there was a horse in front of us. It’s this magic that has been bring­ing to life an­other Michael Mor­purgo story that ar­rives in Leeds next week.

Run­ning Wild is at the West York­shire Play­house from Tues­day and bot­tles that same light­ning that was cap­tured when War Horse came to life.

Start­ing with an ex­tra­or­di­nary true story was a good move.

The book by Mor­purgo tells the story of a girl named Lilly, who, while on hol­i­day with her mother in In­done­sia, takes an ele­phant ride. Dur­ing the ride, Oona, the ele­phant, sud­denly be­comes anx­ious and runs from the beach deep into the jun­gle. With Lilly on her back, they es­cape mo­ments be­fore the tsunami hits the is­land.

Miles from civil­i­sa­tion, at first there’s won­der, dis­cov­ery and tree-top ad­ven­tures with the orang­utans, but, as thoughts turn to her mother left behind on the beach, and wild tigers prowl, and hunger hits, Lilly must now learn to sur­vive the rain­for­est.

Former chil­dren’s lau­re­ate Mor­purgo was in­spired by the real-life story of Am­ber Owen, who was on hol­i­day in Phuket with her mother and step­fa­ther in 2004, when she went on an ele­phant ride. While rid­ing Ning Nong along the beach, the eight- year-old no­ticed the ele­phant was at­tempt­ing to pull away from the re­ced­ing sea water.

“He ran away and, as the water came in, I was safely on his back. He saved my life.”

Mor­purgo said: “When I read Am­ber’s story in the news­pa­per, it was the one bit of hope amid the de­struc­tion of the Box­ing Day tsunami which hit South East Asia.”

Run­ning Wild, West York­shire Play­house, April 1115. Tick­ets 0113 2137700.

PICTURE: DAN TSANTILIS.

UP­LIFT­ING STORY: Run­ning Wild, based on a Michael Mor­purgo book, ar­rives in Leeds next week.

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