The magical storytelling of Michael Morpurgo and the team that created the puppets for the stage show War Horse have come together again for this show.
This time, the puppet creators at Gyre and Gimble have worked their magic on a life-sized adult elephant, Oona. Other creatures they have created include orang utans and a tiger.
Running Wild was inspired by the real-life story of Amber Owen, an eight-year-old who was on holiday in Thailand with her mother and stepfather in 2004, when she went on an elephant ride.
While riding Ning Nong along the beach, the elephant ran away from the receding sea water.
The elephant’s instincts saved Amber’s life from the terrible Boxing Day tsunami that hit south east Asia.
When he read Amber’s story in the newspaper, Michael said it was the one bit of hope amid the destruction.
In his story, the little girl Lilly has to learn to survive in the jungle that Oona the elephant takes her to.
She encounters more dangers, including from violent poachers who are after the wildlife at any cost.
Michael said that the point of his books such as War Horse or Running Wild is not to preach to children.
He added: “You don’t sit down and write a message of peace. If you are in some way writing a polemic, you’re certainly not doing people any favours.
“Children should work things out for themselves.
“We make war and fighting exciting on their screens all the time.
“They will think about these things and find out more about the rainforests and how many tigers and elephants there are left.
“If the problem is going to be solved, it’s about them.”
The show is supporting the Born Free Foundation’s global elephant conservation projects.
Film star and animal campaigner Virginia McKenna said she was thrilled that her campaign is working with the show.
She has already seen the show and said of the puppets: “They are real. This is the extraordinary thing.”
She remembered talking to the famous horse whisperer Monty Roberts about War Horse.
“He said, ‘I was sitting in the audience for two minutes. In that two minutes, I wasn’t watching puppets, I was watching real horses’.
“You’re combining this with the way Michael writes about animals and puppeteers who understand movements, thought and feelings and combining all these incredible skills.”
Virginia is associated more with lions through the 1968 film Born Free, the story of lioness Elsa.
However, she said it was actually the death of an elephant at London Zoo that had appeared in the film that was the catalyst for her campaigning work on wild animals in captivity.
Virginia said: “We have an elephant rescue centre in Sri Lanka that they are brought to.”
She added: “There are only 400,000 elephants left in the whole of Africa.
Born Free works to try and inspire people to care about animals, especially elephants, and how deprived they are in captivity and how they suffer when they are not in a family group.
“We explain how people exploit them in very many different ways and how we try to prevent that continuing.”