This Summer, award-winning storyteller Danyah Miller brings to life Michael Morpurgo’s childrens novel in a one-woman show full of charm and intrigue. The show is taking temporary residence at the Apollo Theatre, nestled between The Smeds and the Smoos and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Shaftesbury Avenue. However this show offers its young audience something altogether different. We attended the press showing to see exactly what this show is about and who it is for, for this I Believe in Unicorns London Review. Post contains affiliate links.
What Kind of show is I believe in Unicorns?
Firstly I believe in Unicorns is not a musical. This is not an all singing, all dancing show with interchanging sets, costumes and performers unlike its next door neighbours. This is an intimate show performed by one woman in a deceptively simple setting of a library.
For just under an hour, through artful storytelling, projections and prop manipulation we are transported to a time around the second world war. Here in a rural village a boy named Tomas discovers the joy of stories from the storytelling ‘Unicorn Lady’ at is local Library. Sceptical at first he learns to lose himself in his love for books and the power of stories.
There is a warmth and casualness about Danyah Millers performance which initially seems to catch the audience off-guard. Miller breezes around the stalls inconspicuously talking to the children about their favourite books before taking to the stage with the lights still up. It is a slow, almost false start but as the lights begin to dim and the story starts to unfold something magical happens.
The stacks of books that line the stage hold secrets of their own as Miller calls on them to illustrate her story. One book pours real milk into a paper cone. Another conceals a box of chocolates and another, golden eggs. A series of bigger books are opened to reveal pop ups of delicate paper houses. Miller calls on one particular book to reveal a book within which revels a book within and so on . Like a Russian doll she peels off the layers until revealing a book no bigger than a finger nail.
The show is relaxed and playful, with audience participation and children encouraged to heckle their own contributions. But the show is not all sweetness and light. Tomas’ village becomes embroiled in war. A Nazi invasion and the burning of books are lived out with skilful projections of fire and destruction eating up the paper village. With the library burning, the village assemble to save their beloved books.
What age is I Believe in Unicorns for?
With such dark topics and sophisticated delivery its no surprise that this moving story is recommended for ages 6+ . My 4 year old was struggling to stay engaged towards the end whilst my 6 and 7 year old boys were captivated throughout. Skitting between the intensity of the story and jovial audience interaction proved a winning formula for Miller. I also spotted quite a few early teens enjoying the show.
Is I Believe in Unicorns only for unicorn loving girls?
I am sure there are many unicorn loving boys also. But the title of this show is problematic in that for many the mere suggestion of unicorns alludes to something girly. This show is anything but. The play actually centers around an 8-year-old boy and his father. The title alludes to the librarian’s (Miller) most precious ornament – a wooden unicorn carved by her father.
There is also a delicious story about the evolution of the unicorn into the modern day narwhal. Having missed a spot on Noah’s Ark, Miller recalls how the magical creature took the seas and transformed into a whale. My sons remain convinced this is actually true and cited this as their favourite part. I will leave it to their teachers to prove otherwise…
For my older sons I believe in Unicorns proved stimulating and thought provoking. It was lovely to watch them truly listening to spoken word without the high production ‘smoke and mirrors’ that can often leave them over stimulated and where little is left to the imagination. I also loved that they were called to reflect on their own love of books and be reminded of them as a lifelong source of solace and inspiration.
I Believe in Unicorns is playing at the Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue until 12th August 2023.
Relaxed Performance available
Cast and Creative Team
Danyar Miller -Performer
Dani Parr – Director
Kate Bunce – Designer
Will Evans -Lighting Designer
Martin Thompson -Sound Designer
Arnim Friess – Video Designer
I believe in Unicorns received an Argus Angel Award for artistic excellence at Brighton Festival in 2014 and the Audience Choice Award for Get Creative Family Arts Festival 2015. This is its third consecutive summer season in London’s West End.
Looking for more West End Shows for Kids? Read Next: West End Musicals for Kids (2023)