Storytelling is arguably the oldest of the creative Arts. Before man had the proficiency to write or make music he had the ability to tell a story to a group of fellow humans gathered around a fire and gnawing on a dinosaur burger. And the verbal tradition has survived to the present day and, with Danyah Miller’s wonderful telling of Michael Morpurgo’s I believe in Unicorns it has prospered.
The occasion is the reopening of the Village Library – closed, as we will discover, by its near destruction in war. The hero is the little boy Thomas – a character familiar to us as he prefers the wild outdoors to school and books – at least at the beginning of the story. With clever staging and remarkable and surprising props Ms Miller tells Thomas’s story. Inspired by the librarian who is a great storyteller he begins to see the point of books – and the point of stories. He comes to see that stories are “not just for sissies” and that they “want to make us ask questions”. Danyah Miller takes us through this with charm and style and creates a truly interactive hour. The combination of her assured performance and Morpurgo’s brilliant original is in the great tradition of Aesop, Grimm, Andersen and Wilde. But also of (say) Orwell whose Animal Farm also, of course, used story as metaphor. In I Believe in Unicorns the metaphors are many – most movingly when books are saved from fire and knowledge is preserved in the face of tyranny. A tale for our times – a tale, sadly, for any time?
As well as helping develop a belief in the value and power of books, and the value of passing them on to others, this is also an event which promotes live theatre. In our age of instant availability of almost anything on screens – from our smartphones to the mega ones dominating our homes today – there is still nothing to rival live performance. When that performance is interactive, illuminated by magic and conducted by an artist of Ms Miller’s talent it is quite an experience, as well as great fun.
At 55 minutes the length is perfect and the young audience at the Orange Tree was fully engaged from start to finish. This is “entry level” theatre – something that it is quite hard to do well without being patronising or condescending or silly. I believe in Unicorns is none of these things. It is that hard thing to achieve – great art which looks effortless. A delight.
Review by Paddy Briggs
Wizard Presents Danyah Miller in Michael Morpurgo’s I Believe in Unicorns
23rd December 2015 – 9th January 2016
Olivier Award-nominated Wizard Presents brings best-selling children’s author Michael Morpurgo’s treasured story to life.
This intimate show is set in a library full of books that hold more than stories within their pages. It is a tale of the power of books, and the bravery of a young boy called Tomas. Tomas hates reading and school, but his world is turned upside down the day he meets the Unicorn Lady in his local library…
An enchanting and interactive production, I Believe in Unicorns, which won an Argus Angel Award for Artistic Excellence at Brighton Festival, sparks imagination in both young and old. We challenge you not to believe in unicorns after joining Tomas’ spellbinding journey.