Danyah Miller brings Michael Morpurgo’s beloved book I Believe in Unicorns to life on the Rhodes stage
The magic of storytelling will come to life at Rhodes this month when seasoned storyteller Danyah Miller performs an intimate, one-woman staging of Michael Morpurgo’s beloved children’s book, I Believe in Unicorns.
The play, directed by multi-award winner Dani Parr and designed by Kate Bunceset, is set in a library and it tells the story of a child named Tomas. “It’s about a boy who is eight years old who doesn’t want to read and write,” said Danyah.
“He’s playing in the hills, and being up in the hills is fantastic, but he can also find a place of wonder and imagination in the books.” One day, during a dreaded trip to the library, Tomas meets the Unicorn Lady, aka the librarian, and he becomes spellbound by her stories.
Danyah plays every single role in the story: Tomas, his mother, his father and, during the majority of the play, she embodies the Unicorn Lady. The actress is the co-director of the Olivier Award-nominated theatre company Wizard Presents, which devised and produced the show.
But Danyah said that she never feels intimidated on stage as the sole performer as she is completely at ease amongst her set. “I never feel like I’m on my own,” she said. “It looks as if it’s just a pile of old books, but out of the books come all sorts of magic and exciting wonders to go into your imagination”.
Children who go along to watch Danyah’s performance at Rhodes on Tuesday, October 29 are asked to bring along a book, suitable for readers aged six and over, to swap for another one. The youngsters are encouraged to add their books to Danyah’s pile of novels at the start of the show, so the theatrical world physically contains a part of them.
“What we say is if they bring a book they’re willing to give away, as the librarian, I gather them all up and put them into the library and their book becomes a part of that set,” said Danyah. “As the story emerges, the audience help me to save the books from the burning library. At the end of the show, the children are invited to take home a new book from the stage. It’s all woven into the story.”
As with many of Morpurgo’s novels, the triumph of morale during wartime is a recurring theme. The burning books are written into the tale to demonstrate how the Nazis tried to obliterate different groups of people’s identities and histories at the start of the Second World War, but it also exhibits how people come together in times of adversity.
Danyah said: “The story is about looking after books and how stories take us to different places and why guarding the stories to our history and our lives is very important.”
One of the more positive side effects of the play is that the children leave the theatre with a brand new book to read and a new-found sense of admiration for literature.
“Storytelling underpins all literacy – it’s very powerful, and there’s anecdotal and scientific evidence to show that children who tell stories, share stories and read are better able to concentrate and they have better empathy. There’s lots of benefits to storytelling,” said Danyah.
Danyah has starred in I Believe in Unicorns since 2013, when it was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
“I’ve done a number of other solo shows, but this one is always back by popular demand,” she said.
The Bishop’s Stortford show comes as part of Wizard Presents’ UK tour, which follows a successful run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival – where it has received four- and five-star reviews – along with two West End seasons at the Vaudeville Theatre, plus a performance at the Royal Festival Hall as part of Imagine Children’s Festival.
In the six years that Danyah has been performing in the show, she has visited venues all over the UK and taken it to Hong Kong and Singapore. To date, I Believe in Unicorns has been seen by more than 75,000 people across the globe. The play has also garnered interest from theatres in China, Malaysia and the USA.
Danyah’s storytelling expertise has also earned praise from Morpurgo himself, who said: “Danyah’s performance is a tour de force. The show is moving and memorable, a glorious example of the magic of storytelling. I didn’t like it, I loved it.”
In addition to I Believe in Unicorns, Danyah has also performed in Morpurgo’s Why the Whales Came, and he once more thoroughly enjoyed her interpretation of his work. “Danyah’s one of the great storytellers in this country... she brings stories to life in the most enchanting way,” he said.
And while many audience members have told Danyah that they didn’t know how one person could keep them so enthralled for a whole hour, Danyah is well acquainted with the power of storytelling. “We are all storytellers – some are politicians who tell tales, some are marketeers and we are when we meet in everyday life for a coffee or at the pub,” she said.
* Tickets to see I Believe in Unicorns at 2pm on Tuesday, October 29, priced at £14 for individuals and £52 for a family of four, are available from www.rhodesartscomplex.co.uk or by calling 01279 710200.