Danyah Miller will hold a unique Gala Performance of her acclaimed production of I Believe in Unicorns, based on the story by the best-selling children’s author Michael Morpurgo, to celebrate The Reading Agency’s 21st birthday.
As part of an exclusive audience experience, Michael will join Danyah on stage for a post-show talk at the Gala on Sunday 9 July at the Lyric Theatre, with all profits being donated to The Reading Agency.
Following on from the Gala, this new production of I Believe in Unicorns opens at the Apollo Theatre for a summer season on 31 July, with previews from 27 July. More information can be found here.
You’re bringing I Believe in Unicorns to the West End, what can you tell us about the show?
This is a tale of the bravery of Tomas, an 8-year-old boy, who hates reading and school, but finds that everything changes the day he meets the Unicorn Lady in his local library… It’s an inspiring story about stories, books, the power of the imagination and the resilience of a community in the face of war.
The production is set in a library. When you arrive in the theatre all you can see are piles of books across the stage. As the show starts, these books contain more than you first imagined as the story emerges out of the books, including a golden egg, kites, pirates and even milk! The power of books! The show is interactive and playful, although I’m often told that it also brings tears to people’s eyes. I love it when I see children and adults in the audience, transfixed by the story, mouths open, followed by gasps of wonder!
What is it about Michael Morpurgo’s story that makes you think it’s ideal for the stage?
Many years ago, I was given this book as a gift from a friend, for hosting my then seven-year-old daughter’s weekly storytelling group in my home. Her inscription said, ‘You are the Unicorn Lady’.
At the time I was searching for a story for my next production and instantly knew this was it. The tale is visually appealing, dynamic, full of twists and turns. As the tale contains gravity, levity and jeopardy, it’s a rich and layered story which appeals to adults and children alike. In collaboration with the hugely talented Dani Parr (director) and Kate Bunce (designer) we agreed that everything should emerge out of books. Kate brought books, props and objects, including a wheelbarrow, into rehearsals to inspire us in our play and improvisation.
You’ll hold a gala performance in aid of the Reading Agency, tell us a little more about that?
We’re really delighted to be hosting a special Gala performance to mark the 10th anniversary of our production and to celebrate of The Reading Agency’s 21st birthday. This incredible UK charity has a mission to get everyone reading, knowing that health and wellbeing, life chances and social connections all get better when we read.
Michael and Clare Morpurgo will be guests of honour at the Gala.
All profits from this performance will be donated to The Reading Agency, to contribute towards all their invaluable and inspiring work. I’m excited that our premier ticket holders are invited to a pre-show glass of Fortnum and Mason champagne or an ice cream, as well as receiving a bumper bag of goodie whilst band A tickets holders will receive a bag of goodies too. Everyone will have the opportunity to enjoy this award-winning show and to see Michael when he joins us on stage for a post-show Q&A.
The raffle will be drawn after the performance with incredible prizes to win.
We’re all passionate about championing libraries, books and stories and agree that stories and reading have the power to change lives. Our Gala will take place at Lyric Theatre on Sunday 9th July 2.30pm.
And what are you looking forward to most about the season at The Apollo?
I’m thrilled to be sharing this story with another generation of children, to inspire and excite them as they make their way in the world.
I remember when my mum brought my brother and me to London to see Angela Lansbury and Bonnie Langford in ‘Gypsy’ at Piccadilly Theatre. I was around 8 years old (the same age as Tomas in the show). I fell in love with the theatre and with West End. After Uni, where I studied drama, dance and English, I headed straight to London and knocked on the door of Theatre Royal Drury Lane. That evening I began work as an usher, selling programmes and ice creams.
It took me a very long time, but finally I was invited to perform ‘I Believe in Unicorns’ at Duchess Theatre in January 2014. When I stepped foot on the stage, and the house lights went down, it was as if I’d come home.
This will be the third summer season I’ve performed in the West End. I love being in the theatre now as much as I did when I was 8. The Apollo team is really welcoming and supportive, so I’m delighted to be making this my home over the summer.
What do you think you’ll find most challenging about the run?
Undoubtedly, the first performance of a new run. This is when I feel the butterflies, the shaking knees and my heart pumping most acutely. I like to wander through the auditorium before the show to say hello to people as they take their seats, this is the moment that the show begins for me… although it isn’t until I stand on stage and the lights dim that my fears, nerves or doubts dissolve and disappear. I believe my job is to serve the story, offering it as a gift to the audience.
Dani, our director, always reminds me that even though I know the story and what’s contained in all our books, inside out and back to front, our audiences are seeing all the magic for the very first time. I know how important it is for me to share that sense of awe at every performance. Luckily I’m naturally an enthusiast, so it’s easy to get caught up in the wonder of the show, over and over again!
What would you say to anyone thinking of booking to see I Believe in Unicorns?
When Michael Morpurgo first came to see the show, at Vaudeville Theatre in 2015, I was so nervous, I really wanted him to like what we’d created. After the show I plucked up the courage to ask ‘Michael, what did you think of it?’. He considered for a moment and said ‘I didn’t like it’ – then he paused as my heart sank, before he smiled broadly and continued – ‘I loved it!’
I also remember at the end of one of my performances the duty fireman approached me to explain that he’d had what he described as ‘a troubled youth’. As a result, he hadn’t learned to read or write until his mid-twenties. He told me that he was so inspired by the show that he was going home to read to his seven-year-old son for the first time.
As you would expect from a Morpurgo story the show really is suitable for everyone from 6 to 106 years old.