YOUR first gut reaction is, ‘How on earth am I going to stage this?’” says Samuel Adamson, who took it upon himself to adapt Michael Morpurgo’s vibrant children’s book Running Wild for the theatre.

“It is certainly a challenge, but if the story and the acting are strong enough, and it has integrity and authenticity, your imagination takes you to a place where you are think you are actually looking at an elephant.”

Clearly, some explanation is needed at this point. Running Wild is a 2010 work by the children’s author Morpurgo (whose War Horse has been im - mensely successful in its London theatre run) revolving around the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. The natural disaster killed roughly 280,000 people in 14 countries.

In the book, which is based on a true story, young protagonist Lilly is on holiday in Indonesia with her mother, fulfilling her dream of riding an elephant – a trusty specimen called Oona.

Oona senses the danger before most other living things and thus aborts a leisurely stroll on the beach to charge headlong into a nearby jungle – with Lilly still clinging on for dear life. The animals in the book – as well as the tsunami itself – are all constructed and presented through largescale puppetry.

Adamson is aware that a lot of his family audience won’t have been born when the tsunami struck but he insists the story holds relevance right up to the current day, in terms of both global environmental issues and being a young person.

“Lilly is coming of age and working out who she is at the time of this horrific, destructive event,” says the director. “The fact that she has to manage by herself in a strange new environment emphasises the disorientation of growing up.

“There is also a deforestation theme which is still relevant, and also the very important subplot of poachers killing adult orang-utans and selling the babies.

“Just in the last few days there has been a phenomenal BBC investigation into a very similar story about chimp trafficking in West Africa. Although the tsunami is a period event, these themes are absolutely of now.” Running Wild has already been successfully staged in two different locations.

The Cass Sculpture Foundation near Chichester allowed an immersive theatre experience, with the audience following the action into a literal forest after the elephant flees the danger. Three of the young Chichester Youth Theatre actors who performed in this first production – Romina Hytten, Darcy Collins and Fred Davis – have since become professional actors. “They’re effectively bringing it back home now with this new run,” says Adamson.

Of the sculpture park staging, he says: “ The audience was taken by the collar and dragged into a new world. Suddenly the birds and the trees played a real part in the storytelling.”

Then came a run at Regent’s Park open air theatre in London, which Adamson describes as “the most challenging” location of the three so far. “It is easier inside because the lighting allows you to shift the tone as the characters’ mental and physical states change.”

It goes without saying there is a lot of mental and physical turmoil in the story, along with hope and warmth. As well as the “tension and drama” of being lost in an Asian forest, Adamson stresses that an important factor in the tale is the relationship be tween Lilly and the natural world; not just the forest and Oona the elephant, but also an orang-utang she befriends.

“She loses her mother in Indonesia but finds a new family.”

Running Wild, Chichester Festival Theatre, Friday, February 10, to Saturday, February 18, 7pm (2pm matinee on Weds and Sat), from £10, call 01243 781312 or visit