It’s the summer holidays, so of course the rain is pouring down outside. But here in the Apollo Theatre it’s cosy and comfortable as superb storyteller Danyah Miller transports an audience of captivated young children into a world of literary wonder and empowerment.
Belief, transformation and joyfully interactive imagination are at the heart of this delightfully creative adaptation of Michael Morpurgo‘s book. The stage is set as a library in the process of redecoration, with peeling wallpaper and books piled high everywhere. All at the same time there’s a sense of history, of creation and of renewal, which feeds beautifully into the production and provides a pleasantly intimate environment that’s not too overwhelming for the youngest spectators.
Miller is so much more than a storyteller: she is a facilitator of fiction, a purveyor of participatory pleasure for children who perhaps didn’t even know they could write stories before now. From the opening moments of the show there is an exciting collaboration between her and her captivated audience. Before the performance she has spoken with some of the children, discussed their favourite books, taken recommendations on what would be good to read next: they are already part of the play. She then uses games and playfulness to reassure the wider auditorium that this is a space in which they can participate. They are quickly eager to shout out and help to devise a story she relates for them.
The main tale is about a boy named Thomas who initially doesn’t like to read, but over time comes to love the library in his own way. It helps him to be confident and inspires him to collaborate with friends, sharing the enjoyment of storytelling. Miller’s excellent performance is personalised and energetic, drawing us in whilst producing multiple moments of magic and surprise as described events are visualised.
Designer Kate Bunce does a remarkable job, hiding secret after secret in nooks and crannies around the stage for Miller to joyfully reveal. New ideas, images and stories are lifted from the many storybooks strewn across the stage. Sometimes these create the background for vibrant video projections, designed by Arnim Friess, which give an exciting alternative dimension to the story being told. Will Evans‘ lighting beautifully embraces the shifting taletelling, moving the focus between stage and auditorium to underscore the developing, interactive relationship between the spaces, whilst Martin Thompson‘s considered sound design subtly complements each section of the twisting narrative.
Intertwined with Thomas’ tale are other stories, some fiction, some based on truths. We hear of burning of books and war, Noah’s Ark, and the mythology of unicorns. Themes of belief, courage, curiosity, and creative transformation are beautifully disclosed. They empower both the character from the book but also the children participating in this space, who at one point share a fabulous opportunity to build the library themselves.
I love an active audience, and this one leaves with new knowledge, practical skills, stories to research, and ideas of their own to develop. This is a wonderful hour to spend for young people and comes highly recommended.
Adapted from the book by Michael Morpurgo
Designer Kate Bunce
Lightning Designer Will Evans
Sound Designer Martin Thompson
Video Designer Arnim Friess
Produced by Danyah Miller Storyteller in association with ABA International Touring (UK) and Watford Palace Theatre
Aimed at ages 6+, I Believe in Unicorns runs at the Apollo Theatre until Saturday 12 August. Further information and bookings can be found here.