Theatre review: There Should Be Unicorns

Our theatre reviewer, Hannah Hobson, shares her thoughts on Middle Child’s There Should Be Unicorns.

Emily Gray and Company. Photo: Tom Arran.

To the Stage@TheDock this May, Middle Child have brought an unapologetically optimistic and imaginative show which comes with its own TikTok dance. The production is in association with Beats Bus. There Should be Unicorns takes that indelible HipHop spirit, dresses it up in bright pastel colours and lets its young audience know that anything is possible if you’re willing to be the hero of the story.

At the centre of this production is Emily Gray as eleven-year-old Jasmine. Fiercely creative, Jasmine sees the imaginative possibilities of everything she encounters and Gray perfectly portrays this tenacity of spirit. By her side is her dad, played by Steve Arnott. The relationship between the two forms an essential emotional backbone to the show and is beautifully explored throughout. The two are backed up by an ensemble of classmates and teachers who all have their own well-expressed mini arcs within the storytelling. This is a show that finds avenues to be kind, even to the characters who, in less-nuanced shows, may have been plainly villains.

Emily Gray and Steve Arnott. Photo: Tom Arran.

Luke Barnes’ book is tight, concise and easy to follow without ever being over-simplistic. There is not a character in this story who is not well-drawn. The central conflict of Jasmine finding the best way to be her truest self is beautifully expressed. This is aided by sugary composition by James Frewer and Kobby Taylor, as well as lyrics from Paul Smith. The integration of music into There Should be Unicorns is utterly seamless, as much a part of the show’s storytelling as Natalie Young’s pastel-coated design work. The music seems to come from the same sound-world as its characters. It mirrors Jasmine’s own catchy creative spirit and it’s amazing fun to watch.

Staging this show outside is a work of genius. Its raucous energy defies the bounds of a more conventional theatrical space. It gives the stage the feeling of a playground, something Young’s set encourages, with its building blocks, chalk boards and climbing frames. This is excellently utilised through Paul Smith’s staging. The cast and stage management team shift the world around Jasmine, pulling magical costumes seemingly out of nowhere. That sense of play, of the joy of chaos underpins Smith’s work on this show and make it an absolute joy to watch. The movement work from Ryan Harston is excellently managed, balancing a bit of showmanship with a few moves that are wonderfully mimicable for the little dancers in the audience.

Saskia Pay, Emily Gray and Ryan Harston. Photo: Tom Arran.

There Should be Unicorns is also ingenious in its accessibility. Dave Wycherley’s BSL interpretation on the Sunday performance feels fully integrated into the show. Even more part of the production’s make-up is audio description in the form of Kobby Taylor’s narration within Barnes’ script.

The sold out run at the Stage@TheDock predicates Middle Child touring There Should Be Unicorns, firstly to Brighton and then back to our very own Freedom Festival in August. It is free to book and such a fun show, with enough glitter and wonder for the little ones and some beautiful storytelling for the grown-ups. So, no excuses, put on your cape, give your best superhero pose and book in for There Should Be Unicorns as soon as you can.

[Hannah Hobson – Theatre reviewer]