Review: I Believe in Unicorns ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Children’s shows

I Believe in Unicorns

Pleasance Courtyard, v33

10:30 (ends 26 August, not 14, 19)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

This was an absorbing hour which kept a theatre full of children silent and engaged or enthusiastically calling out answers to “the librarian’s” questions. The magic that is hidden in books was unveiled before our eyes, and we were encouraged to dream.

Danyah Miller had spent time talking to children in the audience as they took their seats, welcoming them to her library on its re-opening day. Now, rather than give them a long speech she told them the story of young Thomas, who came reluctantly into her library when he was a young boy, but who was instrumental in ensuring that there were books to put into the newly re-opening library…

The show is a delightful confection of different genres – superb storytelling, pop-up books, a kind of puppetry, projection and music. The librarian was surrounded by piles of books, awaiting reshelving, and these proved a veritable treasure trove of objects with which she illustrated her stories. Usually I am horrified by people who ‘deface’ books, but these creations displayed such ingenuity that we were kept in constant amazement at the things that emerged from individual books – pop-up houses, a golden egg, a magical kite that flew away and kept hiding before being found again, and, gloriously, a succession of increasingly tiny books, the last one the size of a postage stamp…

The set was well-designed, allowing ingenious use of two step-ladders and the piles of books which could become stepping stones across a river, mountain-tops and the village in which the librarian grew up. Danyah is an engaging storyteller who knows how to capture an audience and react positively to all their suggestions, involving us in the creation of a three-minute story made from audience-suggested name, place and object: who could have thought that Charlotte, a gymnastics museum and a unicorn statue could make such an entrancing tale???

We heard how young Thomas, who loved the solitude of the mountains and hated school, became at first a reluctant listener to the librarian’s stories and then an enthusiastic participant. Then things turned sombre, as we learned the reason for the librarian’s most precious, fire-damaged, copy of Hans Christian Anderson‘s tales and heard how years later the library and most of the village were destroyed in yet another war – but many of the books were saved, to be re-shelved in the newly rebuilt library. Finally our spirits were raised as we heard about the magic of unicorns, and why the librarian believes in them and the magical properties of her own unicorn statue.

This delightful show was greeted with loud and long applause: another triumph for Michael Morpurgo.

Mary Woodward