Multi-award-winning performer and storyteller Danyah Miller stars in Why The Whales Came which tours to The Lowry Wed 25 – Sun 29 October. Before the show arrives, we caught up with her to find out what its like to perform lots of characters and her top tips for storytelling.
What can audiences expect from Why The Whales Came?
Why the Whales Came is a theatrical storytelling family show. It’s the story of Gracie and Daniel, two children who’ve been forbidden to go near the mysterious and seemingly dangerous Birdman – but when they find a message in the sand things are not always as they seem. The two friends get stranded on the Birdman’s tiny island and begin to unravel his secrets…
It is a story filled with fun, mystery and adventure. I love how Michael Morpurgo’s stories are full of surprises, sadness, hope, joy. Above they’re about ordinary folk often doing extraordinary things during extraordinary times and this is true of Why the Whales Came.
Although it’s based on a children’s book, the show has something for everyone, it is a ‘family’ show in the widest possible sense. It’s suitable for all ages from 7 to 107, whether or not they have children with them. Good stories, good theatre appeals across the ages and we very much hope that our show does this too.
“Danyah’s performance is a tour de force…a glorious example of the magic of storytelling…” Michael Morpurgo
You play every character in this stage production. What is it like switching between characters so quickly? Do you ever get them mixed up?
As a solo performer I’m the only person on stage, but I feel as if I have a collaborator when I perform on the set, in the ‘world’ that the whole creative team has produced… the set, projection, lighting and sound. Throughout the show I switch from being the storyteller, ‘holding’ a central point, to characters, sometimes one speaking to another. I don’t ever get muddled although it is quite a challenge, particularly in rehearsals, to find and portray each separate character. I do relish being stretched in this way. I love to paint the world of the story, become characters, weave in and out of landscapes and people, and then come back to the centre as storyteller again.
Is there a character you prefer to play in the story, and why?
Gosh, this is a difficult question, I’m not sure I can answer it definitively. There are three main characters, Gracie, Daniel and the Birdman. I care very much about each of them and have grown to know who they are through rehearsals but also whilst performing the show on tour. Perhaps if I had to choose one it would be the Birdman because I love how we get to know him better throughout the show and by the end he probably isn’t who we first thought he was.
We know you can’t tell us why the whales actually came because that would be a spoiler. But does the play have an important message?
I love working on Michael’s stories because they’re multi-layered as well as being gripping tales which are always based on some true story.
Why the Whales Came really makes us think about others, about strangers, about how we view difference and how sometimes we misjudge when we’re unsure or afraid. I would hope that the audience take away a sense of hope and joy and perhaps the feeling that one person can make a huge difference.
Michael Morpurgo himself calls you a ‘storytelling phenomenon.’ Do you have any tips for parents to tell the perfect bed-time story?
I would really recommend that parents share stories, both written and from memory or imagination, with their children. I think one of the most important thing to remember is to give yourself time, relax, know that neither you nor your story has to be perfect. Just enjoy being together, let your imagination roam, tells stories of and from your childhood. Children will enjoy your stories most if you enjoy telling them.
My top ten tips for storytelling with children was published in The Guardian in 2014 which you can read here.
If you want to learn more about storytelling, the International School of Storytelling runs a superb course, short and long. I’m one of the course leaders there.