You'll Believe In Unicorns After Seeing This Play
At a time when children have a wealth of other distractions, Michael Morpurgo's best-selling I Believe in Unicorns returns to the London stage to highlight both the power of books, and the valuable role inspiring storytellers play in our lives.
If unicorns are lucky, then I Believe in Unicorns is blessed with the magnificent Danyah Miller as the enchanting Unicorn Lady. She tells the story of Tomas, a spirited boy who loves nothing more than playing in the mountains near his home. Tomas shows no interest in reading or school, until he is dragged along to her popular storytelling sessions at the local library.
As a one-woman show, parents might feel relieved by the early arrival of the unicorn which, even if a little modest, is enough to keep the expectant young audience happy. From here, it doesn't take long for stories to begin to capture the viewers' imaginations. Lively world music, a dazzling space scene and larger-than-life books all dwarf our narrator, demonstrating how books win over a reluctant Tomas. Our young companion also appeared to be enjoying it from her own quiet world.
The monologue style might not hold the attention of all younger viewers for the full hour, but with some clever opportunities for audience participation, they certainly feel they have a stake in the story. The books on stage hold a host of cheerful surprises, from golden eggs to playful kites. The inclusion of projections is also well timed. Scenes of Tomas running through the fields feel magical, like a memorable train journey, set to the atmospheric music and sound by Martin Thompson.
Where the performance sometimes falls down is with the complex plethora of themes, with some more serious topics a bit too much for the younger theatre-goer. We noticed one child unable to watch the scenes which allude to the burning of books by the Nazis during the Second World War. We heard another ask nervously if that was going to happen at their library. It was an awkward time for accompanying adults who on this occasion were unconvincing at passing it all off as 'just a story'.
Thankfully by the closing scenes, the mood had lightened with the telling of the unicorn story, and a chance for Miller's strong and unflappable style to come into its own, remaining warm and charming, even as the input from the young audience became a little over-enthusiastic.
Our performance closed to rapturous applause, and as we joined a busy queue of excited children waiting to meet the Unicorn Lady and her trusted companion, we realised how well the show had succeeded in doing its job. Not only did everyone waiting in line clearly believe in unicorns, but every visitor definitely now believed in a great story, well told.
I Believe in Unicorns runs at Vaudeville Theatre, 404 The Strand, WC2R 0HN, until August 30 (no performances on Wednesdays). Times vary. Tickets from £17.50. Recommended age: 6 and upwards. Londonist saw this show with a complimentary review ticket.
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Last Updated 07 August 2015