Michael Morpurgo is a magical storyteller and his works have frequently been adapted for the stage. However, Wizard’s production of I Believe in Unicorns is the most successful I have yet seen at translating the magic of the page into that of the stage in such a literal sense.
“None of these books are as boring and battered as they may seem”
The simple set consists of heaps and stacks of books arranged on a dusty looking carpet. Or does it? What at first appears to be a simple representation of a local village library is in fact an intricate and complex arrangement of magic tricks. None of these books are as boring and battered as they may seem. Some stacks are really boxes, some open up to reveal pop up houses, others include edible pages or chocolates or a golden eagle’s egg.
Each book that is opened reveals a delightful surprise. One acts as a projector allowing a clip by Arnim Friess for Pixelbox Ltd to be projected onto a banner of pages, a beautiful moment (but one that relies heavily on the technology to function correctly, I believe another of these moments was unfortunately lost due to technical issues).
Ultimately, the only prop not made out of a book, pages or at least emerging from a book is the magical carved wooden unicorn (the linch pin of the plot) that encourages the telling of stories.
The gentle style of this production is a combination of children’s story time meets theatre. It is a soft and coaxing way of introducing younger children to the delights of the theatre (as well as encouraging them to dive into a book). The audience are brought in so gently you barely notice. The young children are asked to offer suggestions for an invented story (hands are very politely raised), suggestions in this particular performance included a lot of pokemon – posing a slight challenge to performer Danyah Miller who revealed her unfamiliarity with the franchise.
Every audience member is completely enthralled and entranced. And, as I would expect from a tale by Morpurgo, there is a supremely touching and emotional ending during which tears were cathartically shed by me for the recognition of the power in words and stories and the bravery of one small boy called Tomas.
I believe in Unicorns will be running at Pleasance Courtyard – Pleasance Two at 10:30am until 26th August (not 19th).
Image: Richard Davenport