Edinburgh Fringe 2013
“Tomas loves the mountains. He hates school and books but, his world is turned upside down the day he is dragged to the library by his mother and meets the Unicorn and the Unicorn Lady. Come and help Tomas save his burning library when the village is overrun by soldiers in the midst of war. A truly interactive experience, the show changes with each audience’s contribution. Bring a (children’s) book to become part of the set and then to swap it for another, at the end”.
We arrive into a ‘library’ and meet a friendly lady with a warm smile, who makes sure all the children are welcomed in on comfy cushions and chairs, carefully attentive of their needs and making sure they can all see.
Then we meet cheeky lovable Tomas, played at exactly the right level by Michael Imerson – i.e neither patronising nor too adult – with an open smiling face and they jump into the story of who they are and why they are there. The children, ranging in ages, are instantly enthralled and charmed. We have some interaction and Thom takes up the challenge to make up a story there and then for us, given only a few key words from the audience. The children and adults alike are delighted.
The depiction of the librarian who encourages children to read and gain confidence in reading out loud is well directed and inspiring, if only all teachers and librarians could be like this! Children get to learn that it’s not about being perfect, it’s about sharing something together with an open heart that matters most and it feels like we are all living in real time that beautiful memory of children huddled around the storyteller.
There are the best uses of props I have ever seen on stage, clever because they are so unexpected and so simple yet effective, adding a depth to the storytelling that deepens the whole piece on an original and visceral level. The care and consciousness of how the entire play has been imagined and delivered is deeply felt. Some children are so connected with the story they can barely contain themselves and burst out with ideas and thoughts of their own to add to the dialogue…and these are received with smiles and warmth. I don’t want to mention any more about the props as it would spoil the surprises but they really are delightful and so well used by the performers as they move in and out of the narrative with a seemingly effortless flow. Just beautiful.
The performers hold the intimate space elegantly, with an openness that makes us feel part of their story and not just observers. They dip expertly in and out of moods, creating friendly relaxed atmosphere with moments of dramatic intensity, moving moments and dreamy wonder. Both performers are gifted in storytelling but it is Danyah Miller who brings an ethereal quality to the piece later on when we learn about the unicorn, taking us through the story in an inspiring way.
My 9 year old loved it, although didn’t always understand the narrative, which may because he was tired but also the references to war were quite complex and he didn’t quite understand the subtly of it – the adults did of course perfectly and it potentially serves as a useful discussion prompt for older children but I’m not sure how appropriate this was for the younger audience, one little girl really physically jumped in this scene and looked a little shaken. This is however the flavour of Morpugo books as they tend to push past boundaries a little and if parents and children are familiar with this then it is still suitable for all the family from age 5. The rescue of the books as part of the war scene is done so vividly and purposefully that we really feel as if we have been part of something important, and the value of role modelling the sacredness of books to children is perfectly captured.
The flow and synergy of the performers weave us in and out of the different layers of the show, using the props to lift and accentuate the storytelling to create vivid inner and outer images, makes this an outstanding show that will add richness to the value of stories to children and adults alike. The physical act of telling stories in person, together as a group, remind us of the social purposes and benefit of this approach, as the experience feels integrated rather than passive and this is due to the way the production have managed to create something quite unique and of a very high standard.