Wild

Created by How It Ended, based on the book by Emily Hughes
Unicorn Theatre in association with How It Ended
Unicorn Theatre (Clore Theatre)

Joe Darke, Leonie Spilsbury and Jasmine Chiu Credit: Genevieve Girling
Jasmine Chiu Credit: Genevieve Girling
Samuel Tracy, Joe Darke and Leonie Spilsbury Credit: Genevieve Girling
Leonie Spilsbury, Jasmine Chiu, Joe Darke and Samuel Tracy Credit: Genevieve Girling

Wild is based on a picture book of the same name by Hawaiian artist Emily Hughes that is about a little girl who has grown up in the forest knowing only the natural world around her. The animals help her to learn about life: bears teach her how to find food, birds to talk to them and foxes show her how to play.

It has been created to connect with young children, ages 2–6, and communicates through action and sounds rather than words (though later there are just a few of them), but it is very clear storytelling and totally engaging.

Samuel Wyer’s design covers the traverse stage with a green carpet patterned with exotic orange and yellow blossoms that rises steeply at one end coming to a high ledge. This is the wild forest into which Jasmine Chiu’s wild little girl comes rushing. With her long hair, tangled with green, she’s a strange creature and her sudden appearance bounding about or rolling on the ground making guttural noises makes her a little bit frightening.

There is a big back bird too, a tall bear, a fox and some fox cubs. Is the girl now in danger? What looked like a fight becomes more like a game and she is learning about living as she copies the bird’s calls.

The bird is a puppet that perches high on a tree, the bear and fox are actors, one with a bear head and furry hands, the other with a fox head and an arm extended waving a tail, the performers in tee-shirts patterned like the carpet to give them a token invisibility. Hoops are waved through the air that fish jump through, an imaginary river is created. Bear shows the wild girl how to catch fish. A family of fox cubs play a chasing game with her. Annie Brook’s puppet designs stimulate the audience’s imaginative involvement. Add the animal movements and noises of Joe Darke, Leonie Spilsbury and Samuel Tracy, all accomplished performers, and wild wood comes live.

Into this happy world come hunters. Wild girl is trapped and, in a miniature vehicle that is routed all over the playing space, is taken to town for study and taming. These adult humans are given a slightly cartoonish quality, a small child’s image of grown-ups. There’s a man (Joe Darke) who is a scientist. When he is not reading a newspaper or issuing instructions, he is making notes or trying to teach her language and alphabet. His wife (Leoni Spilsbury) is forever rushing around with a Hoover when she isn’t tying back curtains or struggling to get the girl to eat off a plate with a knife and fork. But then there is another animal living with them. Samuel Tracy’s dog with its inquisitive nose, watchful eyes and wagging tail is sheer delight. He pairs up with wild girl. They both escape back to the wild wood where she can be happy.

If you want to find a message, it’s that you shouldn’t try to tame wild things, that you have to live and let live a natural life, but this isn’t a preachy piece; it's joyous and funny. Lively physical theatre and lasting a little under an hour, this would be great as a youngster’s introduction to theatre. The audience loved it—and I did too.

Wild was planned for presentation in 2020 with a different cast, but the pandemic forced postponement.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton