Review: Why the Whales Came, Ovalhouse

Michael Morpurgo has had a pretty good streak of seeing his books comes to life on stage. Since War Horse galloped onto the West End stage and then a nationwide tour and international productions worldwide, his other stories Running Wild, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips and I Believe in Unicorns among others have followed suit. Now joining the ranks is Morpurgo’s Why the Whales Came.

Best friends Gracie and Daniel live on the Isle of Bryher where the rumours of the ‘Birdman’ brings fear and panic to the local islanders. Allegedly just the touch of the Birdman is enough to catch his madness. The Birdman lives on an uninhabited island called Sampson and supposedly stepping foot on the shore is enough to curse anyone who dares try.

But now the war has started and the adults are too preoccupied to notice what the children are up to. After one stormy night the children find themselves pushed to the shores of Sampson where they realise that maybe all the stories about the Birdman are false. It’s now up to Gracie and Daniel to convince the adults that they were wrong about the Birdman in order to save the day.

Storyteller Danyah Miller expertly captures the audience’s attention by kicking things off with a Christmassy edition of the game Battleships. The auditorium is divided into two and everyone is given a card with either a cross on it to signify a miss or a snowman to represent a hit. After a few minutes of playing it’s time for the show to begin and Miller explains how Battleships was a game invented during the First World War that the children would play among themselves.

Now with the audience well and truly brought into the story it is time to begin. Miller does an amazing job at telling the story, which is clear from the silence and stillness that is often lacking from smaller audience members when asked to sit for extended periods of time. Her energy is mesmerising as she leaps about the small stage, climbing, crawling, jumping and even wading through some shallow water at times.

The set is rather impressive in this show as it seems small and simple but unfolds and reveals surprises throughout the show. A particularly special moment is during the storm that sends the children to Sampson. With just the use of an iPhone connected to a projector, the small space turns into a torrential storm in a rather magical way.

It may not be a Christmas story as such but it’s a really special telling of a wonderful story and it isn’t just the little ones who will enjoy it. Miller and the creative team really show just how creative storytelling can be.

Why the Whales Came plays the Ovalhouse until December 31.

Photo: Helen Murray