Noel Jordan: 'I say this every year, but within the English-speaking world, it really is regarded as the best children's festival'

Noel Jordan: 'I say this every year, but within the English-speaking world, it really is regarded as the best children's festival'

Small Wonders / credit: Stephen Dobbie

As the Edinburgh International Children's Festival gets ready to mark another exciting and diverse event, director Noel Jordan talks about the secret of its success

Noel Jordan has been rifling through the Imaginate archive and, like a proud parent, marvelling at how much the organisation has grown. 'It's like a toddler that's now reached mature age,' he says. 'Even the types of acts that you see listed in old festival programmes are completely different from today. There's a more mature artistry on offer now, which is so exciting.'

Despite being the man in charge of the 2019 Edinburgh International Children's Festival line-up, Jordan still speaks of himself almost as an outsider; the Australian from the other side of the world who looked on admiringly from afar for many years. 'I say this every year, but within the English-speaking world, it really is regarded as the best children's festival,' he says. 'But I think local people are often unaware of the significance of that. It's as an outsider that you're able to tell the story, and it's incredibly respected everywhere I go. I never need to explain; everyone knows who Imaginate is, and I'm thrilled time and again at the feedback we receive.'

In this, the festival's 30th year, Jordan is pulling out more than a few stops with a programme of work curated from seven countries, catering for babies aged 18 months all the way up to 15-year-olds. And of the 14 shows in the programme, five of them are non-verbal.

'I'm really captivated by image theatre, and when it's done well for young audiences, it can be so transformative,' says Jordan. 'A work such as The Little Bath from France captures the very best of visual theatre. It features a man with an enormous sculptural body of foam behind him, that he dances with, carves up and creates shapes, characters and objects with. And New Owner from Australia tells a very moving story about a dog that comes into a woman's life when she's lonely. Children embrace visual theatre in a very immediate way, they're not being told "this is what's happening", they don't need to hear dialogue, they can imagine it all in their own mind.'

Even when dialogue does appear, Jordan has done his best to procure work that heightens the theatrical experience and enhances engagement. One work in particular – Punchdrunk's Small Wonders – takes us right to the heart of the action.

'What I love about immersive theatre is the immediacy,' says Jordan. 'You're literally sitting in amongst the work with someone talking to you and dragging you inside the narrative. When I saw Small Wonders, I was sitting in a reconstructed council fit with 40 children and parents when a phone started ringing behind me: and the actors said to me, "can you get it?" Because they fully acknowledge that I, and everyone else, is in the room with them. So we become active agents in the construction of the story, and it's magical.'

Edinburgh International Children's Festival, various venues, Edinburgh, Sat 25 May–Sun 2 Jun.

Edinburgh International Children's Festival

Edinburgh's international children's festival of performing arts presents a programme of dance, storytelling and puppetry, suitable for anyone with an imagination.

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