REVIEW – I Believe in Unicorns (The Lowry)

Date: 19 February 2015
Upstaged Rating: 

I Believe in Unicorns is a captivating and expressive story penned by one of our greatest storytellers, Children’s Laureate and writer of War Horse, Michael Morpurgo. In this adaptation for the stage, Theatre Alibi unpack the experiences of Tomas and his family in an inventive and visually stunning way. Using live music, puppetry and powerful physical theatre sequences, the moving story is brought to life completely for the audience. I even had a tear in my eye by the end and Thing 1 (9 years old) whispered in my ear, “I feel very sad for them.”

“The Little Match Girl puppet made me feel sad. Some people in the world are poor and some people are rich”

Tomas didn’t like books or stories. He was happier clambering in the mountains like a goat or tobogganing with his Dad. One afternoon, Tomas’ mum suggests going to the library. Tomas is reluctant until he arrives at the library and meets the Unicorn Lady who has a wonderful talent for storytelling, opening the pages and setting the magic free. Tomas’ world becomes so much bigger as he reveals the wonder of stories, the importance of books and the power of his imagination.

“He pulled funny faces, like me, when his mum was taking him to the library.”

There isn’t a weak link in the cast of three, Ben Worth‘s Tomas is animated and well paced, he leads us fluidly from the fun of physical theatre through to scenes loaded with emotion. Derek Flood and Cerianne Roberts are skilled in playing several different characters with ease; a change of voice and posture and a new prop is all that the younger members of the audience need to understand this. The atmospheric lighting design by Dominic Jeffery and live music by Thomas Johnson really help to pace the whole show, aiding the depth and meaning of the story.

I Believe in Unicorns is billed as being suitable for ages six and over, although I would take this with caution. The backdrop to the immediate domestic action is war torn Europe. To Tomas, the war always seems so far away until one day it reaches his village and he experiences first hand the devastation and sadness of war. It is possible that a younger child may well struggle with understanding some of the context here, given that the story is extremely well-crafted with plenty of different strands explored during its running time of sixty minutes.

However, for those older children, over the age of 8, who are able to follow the narrative and appreciate the emotion of the production, I Believe in Unicorns is a rare treat for an age group who are so often overlooked in quality children’s theatre.

“It made me feel like I was lucky.”

Thing 1 went straight home and dug out my old weather beaten copy of The Little Match Girl and began to read.

I Believe in Unicorns is at The Lowry until Sunday 22nd February and then tours nationally through Spring and Summer 2015.

-Kristy Stott