In the heart of Regents Park, the Open Air Theatre has been transformed into an Indonesian rainforest.
We start the show in Salisbury with a simple set and props, which provides us with a heart breaking opening to the show. This is the perfect set up to juxtapose the second setting of Indonesia, where the brilliance of choosing the Open Air Theatre becomes very apparent. While I can’t imagine another theatre in London more perfect for this show, it is very easy to imagine the show in its previous home, the Chichester Festival Theatre an equally spacious yet indoor venue. Yet in this new location, being among real trees and the warm May breeze we are smoothly transported into the world. This foundation made the presence of the puppets even more captivating. I haven’t seen animal puppetry as realistic and handled with such exceptional skill since Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse (it is no surprise that most of the puppeteers have been sourced from Morpurgo’s last hit).
As War Horse proved, the skill of the puppeteers has to be met by the skill of the actor interacting with the animal for the audience to be invested in the puppetry. This responsibility is a difficult task for an experienced actor, let along a young boy. Yet, Joshua Fernandes (Will) absolutely soars in this show as our lead. He is exceptional. Although young, his intelligent performance took charge of a huge stage that would daunt many actors above his years. His truthful interaction with the puppets was the final, yet vital piece of the puzzle to make them come to life. That being said, the animals weren’t the only challenging element to the role. Will goes through unthinkable things throughout the show, which could present problems for a young actor who (I hope) has never experienced these things first hand. Yet Fernandes skilfully develops the character over the duration of the show, allowing Will to slowly mature, while keeping the vibrancy of a young child. This fantastic journey happens in front of our eyes over a few hours and can only be summed up by one of the most touching lines in the show. “Look at you. You’re a man now.” Fernandes is one of the most impressive young actors I have seen in a long time and I have no doubt he has a wonderfully bright career ahead of him.
The show is a wonderful example of the power of theatre. It is very socially aware and able to draw the audience’s attention to the tragedy occurring on the other side of the world without a hard sell or too much emphasis on exposition. Yet, it is still extremely effective as I was definitely not the only audience member walking out considering what products I can replace in my life that contain palm oil.
The show is a visual and literary masterpiece in a perfectly chosen theatre.
Reviewed by Kara Taylor Alberts @karaalberts
Photo: Johan Persson
RUNNING WILD plays at Regents Park Open Air Theatre until 12 June 2016. Tickets