Piles of books adorn the stage, an obstacle course of literature presents itself, intrigue fills the air. Danyah Miller welcomes the audience to the afternoon’s proceedings, naming particular audience members she had been speaking to prior the performance, and acknowledging them for their presence. Although this is an attempt to introduce an inclusive environment, this pre-show goes on longer than it should, and has me wanting for the performance to begin.
The production witnesses a librarian speaking of interactions and stories that have shaped her life. The concept is potentially a powerful one, however I leave the production underwhelmed. Miller’s librarian has a zest for life; it’s clear she loves her role as an educator, an historian, a storyteller, however the production is anchored down by the sheer volume of the script. When thinking of the show’s demographic, much of the script will go over the heads of the little ones, and they consequently lose out. Running at 50 minutes, the production feels longer than it should be, and this is due to the style of storytelling chosen by director Dani Parr. Stories are mainly spoken to the audience, however characters and settings have the potential to leap out from the imagination of the librarian, but they do not.
Reference is made to a 9 year old named Thomas, who frequently visits the library, The only time I’m able to picture this protagonist is when Miller pulls out a series of pages the length of the stage, and the image of a young, spritely figure runs across a field, all of this supplied by Arnim Friess‘ projections. This is a magical moment. This not only visually adtonishes, but begins to add a sparkle of depth to a very dense script. When considering that Thomas is the same age as many of the audience members, more of an effort needs to be made to make the character relatable.
The aesthetics of the piece are what truly stand out; piles of books only go on to reveal kites, Russian doll-esque books that reduce in size, houses and one book even provides a glass of milk. Kate Bunce‘s staging is very playful, at one point, books cascade upstage as Miller pulls them down, accompanied by snippets of music, symbolising various parts of the world. This truly plays to the senses, however moments like these are very few and far between. Bunce lulls the audience into a seemingly stationery yet stunning set, and amuses with the various surprises discovered throughout the show.
Morpurgo is noted for writing about characters during the war, and there’s one story in particular that resonates. Miller geniously transforms the book heavy stage from library, to village, by simply opening up a series of books to reveal pop up houses. She speaks of how the village was set alight by the opposition, including all of the books in the local library, one man’s will to save a particular book is imprinted on my mind, as Miller begins to physicalise his actions. I Believe in Unicorns is a show with plenty of potential, with the malleable world of the library at the palm of its hand, the choice of storytelling however is the key, it needs to be able to stand on its rather than depend on the staging. 2.5/5
Review written by Lucy Basaba.
I Believe in Unicorns is currently showing at the Vaudville Theatre until Sunday 30th August. For more information on the production, visit here…
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