You might think that for the puppeteer bring the novel War Horse to life on the stage, you might look for a smaller scale project for your next theatrical event.
But having downed tools on the West End show, Toby Olie and Finn Caldwell, they took on Michael Morpugo’s Running Wild which comes to Northampton’s Royal & Derngate from Tuesday May 23 and Saturday May 27.
A whole menagerie of animals come to life and Toby for one was always pleased.
Toby said: “After we had done WarHorse and having seen the phenomenal success that it was in the West End, we thought that it couldn’t be it for puppetry, there had to be something else.
“And then we got approached by the producers of this show to perform it in Regent’s Park which was another fantastic success.
“I have to admit I wasn’t very familiar with it when it was suggested but upon reading it, I thought it would be a very exciting project.”
This epic production, complete with spectacular life-size puppets, tells an emotional and moving story of love, loss and loyalty and of living for the moment.
Running Wild is the story is of a girl named Lilly, who, whilst 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. And then the hunters come…
But whileprevious productions had been out in the open air which help to create the wilderness aspect, this wasn’t always possible in an enclosed theatre space.
Toby added: “When we were outdoors, you could use a lot of those visuals to sell the world that this story is set into. We knew that doing a jungle set was a challenge.
“Because this is after a tsunami, there was bits of props and debris that we could use to create the space.”
And while War Horse had just one animal, this one has dozens of different creatures.
Toby said:There are a whole host of people playing all the different animals, it takes four to move Oona, the elephant and there are times when a lot of creatures are on the stage at the same time, so some of the actors use the puppets.”
Michael Morpurgo, the former children’s laureate and author of War Horse, was inspired by the real-life story of Amber Owen, who was on holiday in Phuket with her mother and stepfather in 2004.
While riding along the beach on an elephant, the eight-year- old noticed the animal 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.”
When he read Amber’s story in the newspaper, Michael Morpurgo said it was the one bit of hope amid the destruction of the Boxing Day tsunami which hit South East Asia. The production will work to support the Born Free Foundation’s global elephant conservation projects.
Toby said: “Talking to other people about this project, Michael Morpugo was very keen on the story of The Jungle Book and I think had wanted to do something of that style.
“But it took for him to read about this that gave him the idea of how he could make it different from the jungle book.
“There is more of an ecological message to this story though.”
Tickets for the show cost from £12.50 amd £27. These can be booked for calling the box office on 01604 624811 or by visiting www.royalandderngate.co.uk where more information is available.