Morpurgo on stage

After huge success with her touring, one-woman version of Michael Morpurgo's I Believe in Unicorns, multi-award-winning performer and storyteller Danyah Miller adopts the same format to offer another slice of Morpurgo magic with Why The Whales Came.

Thursday, 15th September 2016, 12:30 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 3:26 am

The production comes to Worthing’s Connaught Theatre on Sat, October 1.

“The success of I Believe in Unicorns took us by surprise really,” Danyah says. “I loved the story, but you just never know how a show is going to go, but it was great.”

Inevitably, the one-woman format brings its challenges; but it’s a format which naturally suits Danyah: “I suppose it is because my background is as a story-teller. I would describe myself as a story-teller and performer rather than actor. I love telling stories and hearing other people’s stories, and I think the challenge both for myself and the creative team is to come up with really exciting and innovative ways of sharing a story just using one person, but a story about multiple people.

“I have just been up in Edinburgh, and I saw an enormous number of one-person shows. I am really interested in seeing how other people create them, and it really brought into sharp focus how magical the world of I Believe in Unicorns was. The set and the props, when you first come in, just really tap into the imagination, and that’s how you get the magic – the magic of both the ordinary and the extraordinary.”

Danyah likens it all to the difference between a finished toy and an unfinished one: “If you have got, say, a doll’s house, and everything is perfect, you have got the curtains and everything is complete, there is certainly lots you can do with it. But if you have got a cardboard box and you cut out a hole for a window and a hole for a door, you have got to use your imagination much more to complete the picture.”

And that’s what Danyah calls on her audiences to do: “It is for the audience, the people receiving it, to complete the images in their own imagination.”

As Danyah says, Why The Whales Came is full of fun, mystery and adventure and is suitable for everyone aged seven and over.

Children Gracie and Daniel have been forbidden to go near the mysterious and seemingly-dangerous Birdman. But messages and clues intrigue them and, after being lost at sea, in the fog and stranded on his tiny island, they begin to unravel the Birdman’s secrets, the villagers’ fears and superstitions and learn why the whales came to the island.

“Michael Morpurgo has written so many wonderful stories that are very multi-layered. You can read them at one level when you are six or seven, but if you read them again when you are 11 or 12, you get another, different layer of the story, and then you get another layer again when you are adults. That was true of I Believe in Unicorns where we discovered just how many layers there were to it. We had a lot of adults coming along who were saying they were moved to tears by it. Morpurgo does not patronise in any way. He speaks about war and about the difficulties of life, but he doesn’t leave us in a desperate place. He gives us hope. With Why The Whales Came, you are looking at communication and at community. The children have been brought up on the idea of myth on this island, and they believe that this man has cursed the island and that if you go near him or talk to him, you will be in trouble and that he is a wicked man…”

But the truth lies elsewhere…

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