Edinburgh International Children's Festival 2017 reviews round-up

Edinburgh International Children's Festival 2017 review

Primo at the Edinburgh International Children's Festival / credit: Saris and den Engelsman

Artistic director Noel Jordan impresses with a programme of highly rated shows to make you think

The Edinburgh International Children's Festival may not have a theme, but it most certainly has a point. And in his first programme since taking over as artistic director, Noel Jordan made that point loud and clear: chiefly that music, theatre and dance has the capacity to make us think.

When work is created for younger audiences, the opportunities (and, to an extent, responsibilities) are even greater – and this year's Festival programme was packed with creative decisions that gave us all, regardless of age, pause for thought.

But, crucially, these moments of contemplation were delivered with a theatricality that both entertained and inspired. Live music, live illustration, movement, innovative set design, puppetry all played its part in introducing children and teenagers to a world perhaps previously unknown.

The festival has always strived to cater for the very nuanced demands of children as they grow, and Jordan has strengthened that position further with quality works for babies up to adolescents. Theatrical life outside of Britain can have a very different feel, and the international flavours served up to audiences were rich – with nothing seen by our critics dipping below four stars.

Shows such as MamaBabaMe (●●●●) and Andy Manley's Night Light (●●●●), catered beautifully for pre-schoolers. So too Grass (●●●●), Second Hand Dance's highly physical celebration of the natural world. Performed on real turf, two dancers found joy in everything, from feeling the grass between their toes to hearing a bee buzzing past. Colourful projected images adorned the set at just the right moments, when little bottoms might have become wriggly, and a 'stay and play' session at the end saw toddlers digging gleefully into boxes of mud and vegetables. Meanwhile the grown-ups were gifted a chuckle or two at the sight of two worms (one a stuffed toy, the other a dancer in Lycra) battling it out to the Rocky soundtrack.

Primo (●●●●) from Germany felt like going back to the womb (which, for many of the 2–4-year-olds present wasn't that long ago), as we took off our shoes and settled down around the edge of a giant paddling pool with large transparent windows. Climbing gently into the water, Alfredo Zinola and Felipe González introduced us to a sight we don't ordinarily see – the underwater currents and bubbles we generate when we sit, stand and stomp in water. Beautifully lit and soundtracked, Primo brought about a state of absorption for all, with no bells and whistles – just a sense of connection between the human body and water.

The older the child, the more thought-provoking the work, and The Queen Has Vanished by Belgium's Kopergietery company is a case in point. Confusion and sadness fills the castle after the princess' mother 'disappears' (a message subtly conveyed but leaving us in no doubt that the queen has passed away). The King, her father, won't talk about it however and places a ban on crying.

What happens next is a clever twist on the 'damsel in distress' scenario, with two princes failing to meet the princess' needs, and the third – who simply wants to love her – gently re-awakening her heart. All of which is accompanied by live music on a plethora of instruments, and some wonderfully off-kilter live illustrations.

Live music also hit the spot in Bounce (●●●●), by French company Arcosm. Confronted by a huge wooden block, two dancers and two musicians try their best to scale it, with little success – until they pull together with a more united front. Not only did the show subtly stir young minds into thinking about overcoming challenges, but the mix of fine musicianship, theatrical trickery and fluid contemporary dance was a joy in its own right.

And closing the festival, home-grown company Barrowland Ballet proved there's more than one way to deliver an age-old folk tale, with their superb Little Red (●●●●).

The Edinburgh International Children's Festival may be over for another year (with a big pat on the back to Mr Jordan and all involved in this year's programme) but it leaves behind the kind of stimulation that will prompt thoughts and conversations for months to come.

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