Whispers from excited children reverberate around the theatre. Children’s shows of days gone by are recollected, as kids yell “It’s behind you!” and giggle conspiratorially. Whether a first timer or a huge fan, Hairy Maclary and Friends will have you and your children smiling, clapping and singing along.
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Blowing bubbles masquerading as snow, listening to the soft melody of a guitar flowing through the background, and listening to the poetry blooming out of the characters mouths. This is Goodbye Sun and Bear, a beautifully whimsical piece put on by The Bare Project that brings a little extra sunlight into this year’s Fringe.
Never once condescending to its young audience, Titus is a bittersweet depiction of heartbreak as told by a 10 year old. Actor Joe Arkley is a perfect match to Oliver Emanuel’s beautiful script, and together they imbue Titus’ world with all the tragic grandeur and bombast that it deserves. Director Lu Kemp displays well judged restraint, for the most part letting Arkley do his magic, the minimal stage elements allowing Emanuel to do his – the school-age audience is captivated. Theatre trumps Michael Gove, every time.
It takes a talented person to turn around a disgruntled crowd of parents and children after a 15-minute technical delay, but if anyone can it’s Cerrie Burnell. This charming show is set within a cosy bedroom full of toys and entertaining distractions for the children in the audience.
Billed as the man who has been thrilling audiences around the world with his bubbles for almost thirty years, Louis Pearl does not disappoint. Having sold out every Fringe for the last six years, it's not hard to see why; his deep-rooted enthusiasm, talent, wit and imagination truly take hold with his target audience - the children.
Based on the eponymous, and very successful, CBBC show and with the same magicians, "Help! My Supply Teacher Is Magic" delivers on its fundamental premise: to keep kids laughing and guessing.
Cerrie Burnell is happy to be a role model for people with disabilities, but the issues her show addresses are universal
The last time Cerrie Burnell was in a play in Edinburgh she was visibly pregnant. It was 2008 and she had been cast as a nurse in The First to Go, a tough drama by Nabil Shaban about the relatively unknown Nazi programme to exterminate people with disabilities. “The character had a baby at the end of the play, so it was a bit of an in-joke,” she recalls.
This was before Burnell came to national attention as a children’s television presenter. The fact that her right arm finishes at the elbow was all it took for small-minded viewers to complain to the BBC, claiming she was “scaring” their children and giving them nightmares.
Happily, Burnell is too well-balanced and comfortable with her own body to let such prejudice get her down. “I’ve had it all my life, so I think about it as much as I think about the colour of my eyes or my big toe,” she says. “It’s just part of me.”
That’s not to say the issue of disability rights is not dear to her. She says: “I consider it in terms of my work, but I don’t consider it on a personal basis.”
It is a theme she has returned to repeatedly in her work. Her first play for children, 2007’s Winged: A Fairytale, was about a one-winged fairy. Her forthcoming picture book, Snowflakes is about a girl who discovers she is “perfect in her own way”. And her new Fringe show, The Magical Playroom, is about a girl who wants to be a ballerina and is furious when she is told she has to wear a false arm for dancing lessons.
Premiering in Edinburgh before a national tour, the one-woman show follows Liberty Rose as she rebels against this imposition, just as the nine-year-old Burnell herself did (she hasn’t worn a prosthetic arm since). The little girl’s only escape from the injustice of the adult world lies in the imaginative landscape of her toys.
“The Magical Playroom is a very different story to Winged, but it’s kind of about the same thing,” says Burnell, who stars in the play. “I’m in a really lucky position to have the CBeebies audience already on board. Because I am a disabled role model (whether I wanted that or not), I want to use that in the most positive way I can by telling a story that hasn’t been told before.”
She knows she is describing a very particular set of circumstances, but the play has a resonance that affects all audiences. “The real message is a universal theme that anyone can understand, which is about disobeying the authority of your parents,” says Burnell, whose daughter, now five, will be accompanying her to Edinburgh. “It’s something every child goes through. It’s about children being able to have autonomy over their lives and being able to make choices. It’s also about the importance of listening to children – I hope it inspires the parents to be more confident to do that.”
Words Mark Fisher
When & Where
The Magical Playroom, Pleasance Courtyard, 31 July - 8 August (not 14), 11am. From £7.50, Tel: 0131 556 6550
(and a half)The matey institute has brought to the fringe the UK's first gypsy theatre company. A group of clever and enthusiastic artists invite you to create a play, in under an hour. As part of the audience you will create characters, genre, era and cast the actors accordingly.
Just Barmy! Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain is like a primary school mini history lesson but a really fun one and on the stage. Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories books that have previously been adapted for TV and then awarded the first British comedy award for a children’s show has since taken to the stage.
High pitched squeals of delight, enthusiastic clapping (mostly out of time) to the music, bottom wiggling and sweetie fuelled hyperactivity pretty much describes my behaviour throughout watching the Sesame Street characters bouncing around the stage in their latest live offering ‘Elmo Makes Music’. My children were mortified.
Right, let me just put this review in context from the word go: I’m not a fan of one man shows. I particularly dislike one man shows when there are at least four characters referred to in the pre-show marketing literature. A bit of prior warning would be nice so that I wouldn’t spend the first fifteen minutes craning my head around desperately trying to locate a ‘Sharon’, ‘Simon’ or ‘Noush’ hiding in the shadows or an audience member to suddenly leap up, rip their outer layers off and reveal their true thespian identity.
However, once I recovered from the shock that this was definitely going to be at least an hour of mono-man storytelling, I actually found myself utterly drawn in by actor and writer Andy Manley who brought as much energy and diversity to his performance as you would expect from a full cast.
What secrets are held in a scrapbook? If The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean is anything to go by the musty pages hold more than tickets and keepsakes. This delightful story takes us through the deciphering of one scrapbook to reveal its history and to tell its tale. To say more than that about the plot would ruin the charm of this play which captivated children and adults alike.
If you see any show this Fringe, make sure it is Swamp Juice: to miss it would be a crying shame. Born of the exquisitely inventive mind of Canadian Jeff Achtem, this tale of swamp creatures and their mischievous schemes and escapades, is shadow puppetry like you’ve never seen it before. I challenge even the hardest bitten cynic not to find their inner child resurrected by an hour in Jeff’s company.
Summoning up the twisted ghost of Struwwelpeter to the Pleasance Courtyard, Grisly Tales from Tumblewater is full of the kind of cheerfully bloody morality stories that are sure to delight children and adults alike.
Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories are exemplars of storytelling at its most magical for young children. It was with great joy, therefore, to witness Red Table Theatre’s delivery of four of the best-beloved stories with such enthusiasm and pleasure.
This exciting theatre adaptation of Oliver Jeffers’ award-winning children’s book The Incredible Book Eating Boy is ravishing entertainment at its best. In five short minutes, you and your little one (more confident nippers can go in alone) are enveloped by the Black Box theatre and engrossed in the unfolding tale of a boy whose voracious appetite for books went a little too far.
Returning for their third year to the Edinburgh Fringe, the List Operators, originally for adults, have recently turned their attentions to the family market. Combining visual puns and no-holds-barred toilet humour around the theme of ‘ComPOOters,’ the Ozzie duo provide a high-energy, fast-paced show that has the kiddies laughing out loud and the adults trying hard not to.
Gomito Productions use plastic bags, rubbish, and some beautifully crafted puppets to create a magical world at the Hill Street Theatre. The Night Keeper is the story of Maggie, a little girl who is forced to visit the museum on her birthday. When her sister disappears into a bin, Maggie must follow, and she finds herself in a magical version of the museum where all the objects come to life, courtesy of the crazy Night Keeper who, like Maggie, loves to make things out of rubbish.
With an audience comprising only five people (two children and their family), Phil Kay’s show gets off to a slow start. However, Phil Kay is clearly a lovely man with an abundance of energy who makes a commendable effort to entertain his intimate audience despite the clearly disappointing turnout.
An hour flies by in the company of The List Operators, whose predilection for toilet humour and skirting the very edge of naughtiness goes down extremely well with the excited kids’ crowd their daytime slot attracts.
Belt up Theatre offers its first production for a family audience with Octavia, a fairytale with a moral message, and the performance is so intriguing and inclusive that adults enjoy it just as much as toddlers.
In search of his medium-sized bear, Ryan gets to the galaxy through the telescope, followed by guilt-ridden Stella, his older sister. We meet a colourful medley of characters, have a sing and dance, experience the sentiments of the storybook genre all whilst learning some rudimentary astrophysics.
Sydney based theatre company Bell Shakespeare and best-selling Australian children’s author Andy Griffiths have created an unimaginative, clichéd travesty of one of Shakespeare’s classic Scottish texts – sadly three elements wasted which could potentially come together for a fringe show beautifully.
It astonishes me that this is the first time Lynley Dodd’s Hairy Maclary range of books have been brought to life on the stage. A family favourite for over 25 years, the books created such characters as Bottomley Potts, covered in spots; Bitzer Maloney, all skinny and bony; Herculese Morse, as big as a horse – each with a kiddie-friendly rhyme to add fun and rhythm to bedtime stories.
Any play that can make a ploughing contest dramatic and entertaining to children has to be something special. Michael Morpurgo's Farm Boy is an engaging sequel to his most popular work War Horse.
This show is a stage adaption of Julia Donaldson’s popular book about the healthy, handsome and happy stickman who lives in the forest with his stick lady love (it’s unclear whether sticks can get married) and stick children three.
How does Patrick Monahan do it? As with last year, he has taken on the burden of two shows each day, one for children and one for older children.
White engrosses us in the charming and imaginative world of Wrinkle and Cotton. How they got here, and why they are here is not explained; it’s one of those innocent states of unknowing unique to childhood.
Adults tend to call these ideas ‘dystopian’, and like any good dystopia, something is amiss: Colour. If found, any trace of it is consigned to the Rubbish Bin. "Good," says Wrinkle each time a shade is eradicated.
This is a show about meddling younger sisters, adept at creating mess and breaking their older sibling’s toys. Performed using puppets, Lola, the main centre of our attention, passes the time with ‘super cat’, magic performances and her imaginary friend, Soren. The show is split between Lola being told to tidy her room and Lola being told to go to bed.
Clowning about and playing the fool isn’t just for grown-ups at the festivals. Mark Fisher kids around with the best shows for children.Read more...
THE AMAZING BUBBLE SHOW
5-30 August (not 17),
2.30pm & 1.30pm
The Amazing Bubble Man blows bubbles bigger, weirder and more beautiful than you ever thought possible.
15-22 August, 5pm
Entertaining poet John Hegley will be encouraging a bit of a singalong in this freewheeling afternoon of songs and stories.
Scottish Storytelling Centre
7-30 August (not 8), 1pm
Puppet company Theatre of Widdershins routinely leaves Edinburgh with a clutch of five-star reviews, so expect visual delights in this retelling of the popular tales.
Creativity is the name of the game when you’re working with kids, but if you’re short of ideas, they’ll always be happy to help, says Andrew Clover.Read more...
Comedy is about being playful, and adults aren’t always ready for that. You have to butter them up first with a few jokes about IT. With kids, you just come out and shout: “All the boys, say “Hello Andrew” like you’re Buzz Lightyear!” and then 100 Buzz Lightyears roar back at you “Hello Andrew!” and you’re off.
My show is about telling kids The Seven Secrets of Storytelling. Secret Three is Put The Hero In Trouble, and I’m grateful to the school in Wandsworth, where a Year One shouted: “Then we must put YOU in trouble!!” All 400 of them then set eagerly to work, imagining the evil things they could do to me.
A new show for 2-4-year-olds explores the wonder of change and the joy of colour.Read more...
If you think the two-to-four-year-old market is as young as theatre gets, then think again. While Andy Manley has been rehearsing White for an audience of toddlers, he has been planning a second version of the show that will appeal to babies. You’ll have to wait until December to see that production – which, he says, will be more interactive and even less verbal – but, for now, anyone who has passed the grand old age of two will surely be delighted by a show that begins even before they get into the theatre.
The Bongo Club
I really feel that I saw this show in an unfair light. I did not particularly enjoy it but the cast were almost crippled by the absence of children within the audience. Thus I must commend the three main characters for maintaining their bounce as they were smiley, energetic and noisy throughout the play.
Zoo @ 140 The Pleasance
James Soper, the man behind Fairy Liquid and the Burst Bubble, has had an unusual career path. He started out as a circus performer in his early days, before becoming a scientist, and then finally a teacher. Ingeniously, he has decided to merge his diverse talents to create a show that entertains as well as educates his young audience.
Royal Botanical Gardens
I really wish I could have enjoyed this show, and blame the poor rating on the forced change of venue due to the weather, but I found myself flinching so much that I had to leave it prematurely.
This show made me wish I had children. Well, offer to babysit some children so as to take them to see this show. To put it simply, it was wonderful.
The Church Hill Theatre
Snoopy: a six foot adolescent dressed in a white tracksuit with black ears clipped onto a baseball cap. No No No NO NO NO!!!! Or as Linus would say “I can’t take it!”, and I really could not. Despite the best of intentions and neon smiles by the members of the Tri-School Theatre, the beauty of the ‘Peanuts’ characters lies in the sketchy doodles of Charles M Schulz’s comic strips.
Spotlights @ The Merchants Hall
Sleeping Beauty’s modern roots grew from the minds of the brothers Grimm. It was a tale thick with medieval nostalgia, murky forests and magic. More recently, as the Shrek series of films has highlighted, traditional tales have been adapted for more savvy and culturally clued up children.
It is easy to see why children can become mesmerised by balloons, especially if they are ten times their normal size. In this show, Danny Schlesinger exhausts the comic potential of balloons, rolling them down his arm, balancing them on his nose and even constructing a giant balloon dog, Poppy, complete with balloon poo.
Scottish Story Telling Centre
When Carol Ann Duffy became poet laureate, Ian Hislop presented a programme on BBC 4 about the history of the position. ‘The Changing of the Bard’ did not present a very endearing tale of the holders of the position throughout British history.
Oh the magic that ensues when a sunrise can don ballet shoes and dance away the darkness.
Max has lost his Teddy Bear. Silly Max. He’s looked here and he’s looked there, but can’t seem to find it anywhere. Oh Dear. Max has also woken up in his clothes and can’t even remember what he was doing the night before. Naughty Max.
The Space on The Mile @ The Radisson
Laughing Horse @ The Hive
Over rehearsed, a frozen smile, a dusty hat – the stereotypical image of a magician from a children’s party perhaps, but some memories are hard to shake. So when I first heard of Piff the Magic Dragon – a man dressed head to foot in a dragon costume performing essentially the same tricks that impressed me as a child, I thought: over rehearsed, a frozen smile, and a dusty tail.
Scottish Storytelling Centre
Although adapted from the same book, this version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel ‘The Lost World’ differs greatly from Jurassic Park.
Augustine’s @ 41 George IV Bridge
Having chosen Roald Dahl’s much loved children’s classic for this year’s Fringe tour, the thespians of Bishop Grosseteste University College (‘Fringe Sell Out’ 2008) were performing to an already captive audience. Yet these imaginative students were not satisfied with a stock rendition, and instead, delivered their adaptation with refreshing and entertaining thoughtfulness.
The Scottish Story Telling Centre @ 43-45 High Street
Andy Lawrence’s performance brings to life an old tale in a way entertaining enough for both children and their parents alike, even throwing in a few puns and jokes for the older members of the audience.
The Spaces @ Royal Hall of Surgeons
Blunderbus Theatre Company is bringing to life poet Giles Andreae’s tale of the not so nimble footed Gerald the Giraffe in a heartening new musical play aimed at 4-7 year olds.
Beautiful handcrafted puppets and giant multi-operator body puppets allow the audience to suspend their disbelief as they are taken into the jungle for the annual jungle dance.
Gilded Balloon Teviot
It’s surely a sign of an accomplished comedian when they can have both adults and children in stitches at the same time. Monahan, through a mixture of wit, slap stick, and surrealism manages this feat.
Laughing Horse @ The Newsroom
Note to wary parents: it's not as scary as it sounds.
These puppets are simply annoyed that someone's hand is up their backside; someone who cares not that maybe they don't want to be forced to kiss each other and speak in ridiculous voices. These puppets have had enough.
The Spaces @ Royal College of Surgeons
‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a performance of a modified version of the traditional story. It is aimed predominantly at children. The story is told by Jack Crow who plays all the characters and narrates from a small stage very close to the audience whom he addresses directly.
Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 August (ex. 17, 24) 12.30
“I guess you think you know this story.
In true Roald Dahl fashion, Clewis Productions – two delumptious gentlemen from the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre – will have you and your children gripped from the offset; bringing to life the much loved characters of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts books.
Once upon a time
Better known for his stand-up, this year comedian Patrick Monahan is putting his storytelling talent to work in a show for the whole family.