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