Michael Morpurgo’s Running Wild to be brought to life on Canterbury stage

PUBLISHED: 13:04 11 May 2017

India Brown as Lilly with one of the puppets

India Brown as Lilly with one of the puppets


The tale is inspired by the real-life events of one girl who survived the Boxing Day tsunami in South East Asia in 2004

Author Michael Morpurgo’s novel Running Wild will be brought to life on stage in Canterbury later this month.

This award-winning production, which comes to the venue as part of Canterbury Children’s Festival, is based on a true story and tells of love, loss and loyalty, and of living for the moment.

It features life-size puppets from the former Associate Puppetry Directors on War Horse.

Lilly, 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 the hunters.

Michael Morpurgo, the former Children’s Laureate, author of War Horse, and former student of Canterbury’s The Kings School, 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.”

When he read Amber’s story in a newspaper, Michael 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 Virginia McKenna’s Born Free Foundation’s global elephant conservation projects.

The lead role of Lilly will be shared by three young actresses, Jemima Bennett, India Brown and Annika Whiston.

Dad/Red Bandana will be played by Kazeem Toisin Amore, Grandma by Liz Crowther, Mahout/Kaya by Stephen Hoo.

Dr Geraldine by Corinna Powlesland, Mr Anthony by Jack Sandle and Mum will be played by Balvinder Sopal.

The puppeteers will be Darcy Collins (Frank, the baby orangutan), Romina Hytten (orangutan Mani Head), Fred Davis (Mani Body), Elisa de Grey (elephant Oona Trunk), James Charlton (Oona Head), Michael Peters (Oona Heart), and Wela Mbusi (Oona Hind), with Gareth Aled and Scarlet Wilderink as alternate puppeteers.

Running Wild is at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre from May 31 to June 3.

For tickets visit

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