EICF Opening Weekend

May 31 2017 | By More

★★★★☆    Imagination reigns

National Museum of Scotland: Sat 27/Sun 28 May 2017
Review by Thom Dibdin

The Edinburgh International Children’s Festival kicked off in splendid form this year, with an opening weekend of unusual and quirky offerings at the National Museum of Scotland.

This is of course the festival we have known as Imaginate for the last 25 years or so, the purveyors of quality theatre for young people – and nothing has changed in terms of innovation and attention to detail. It’s just a new name and the inclusion of dance in the programme.

Opening Weekend – The Tallest. Pic Ruth Armstrong

In recent years the opening weekend has become the festival’s present to both its participants and to the city. It is a time when creators of theatre for children can experiment with new ideas, work on existing ones and see how they work on real live audiences before creating a full show that will work in the wild.

For the audience, it is a chance to wander round the museum and experience an exciting range of different shows and events for free.

In the main hall, all sorts of ideas are being tried out. Mamoru Iriguchi have a rail of extra-long capes which they are loaned out to youngsters to wear when they are sitting on their parents shoulders, so they can become The Tallest people in the room – performers for all to see.

Somewhere over in a corner a bunch clowns in hi-viz red noses are getting their audience to help them build a new museum, for some reason. We glimpsed them from high up galleries and even wandered past but never quite got the chance to take part.


Out on the main floor, Caroline Bowditch and her company are staging The Adventures of Snigel, a Pied Piper kind of event in which Bowditch scoots around the main floor dressed up as a snail, followed by her eager band of fascinated youngsters who help her clean her shell and play with bubbles.

Snigel (Caroline Bowditch) and her admirers. Pic: Ruth Armstrong

For those down the front it is a fabulous experience, with strange music filling the area around the shimmering multi-coloured snail shell. The only real problem is that the promenade performance is photogenic to the point of distraction, with so many grownups taking videos of their own little ones that only the most assertive get to go down the front.

Elsewhere, around the far reaches of the museum, different companies take over spaces appropriate to their size or aims. This can mean a bit of schlepping around, but on the up side, it means you can happen upon completely unexpected performances – the human scale game of Snakes and Ladders in the basement provided a great diversion.

The festival volunteers are enthusiasts themselves, with their own suggestions about what is good to see. One sent us off up to find dance company Curious Seed, who had taken over the museum Event Space with The Reluctant Boxer.

A sort of interactive durational piece of dance, music and crayons, this was a great find. Two dancers were managing to do everything but boxing in the middle of the room. Around their non-boxing ring, a big strip of paper was taped to the floor for the audience to draw on. Crayons were provided and in one corner of the ring a musician played assorted instruments, layering samples to create a soundtrack for the boxers.

Dance happened… It was fun

It was a hive of activity, with kids and parents alike drawing unicorns and quirky cartoons on the paper. While we were there, the dancers paraded around rolling each other up in brown paper and turning white tissue paper into emblematic doll angels. Sometimes a child would adventure into the middle to join them, or accept an instrument from the musician.

Curious Seed with The Reluctant Boxer. Pic Thom Dibdin

Sometimes the dancers would adventure into the drawing space, catching the eye of a startled artist and making them smile. Who knows what it meant. Dance happened. It was fun. It worked.

The most secluded of the shows was quite the best, however. Cellist and interactive performer Greg Sinclair originally made his A Piece of You, for a grown-up audience. Now was seeing whether it worked for an audience of children aged seven and over.

In A Piece of You, Sinclair invites an audience of one to a unique and very personal voyage of discovery as he creates a piece of music just for them. First he asks questions about their life, how they are feeling and how they travelled to the place the performance is taking place.

While the audience member answers, Sinclair interprets their reply and writes it down on manuscript in a form of pictorial musical notation. When the interview is done, he performs the resulting piece on his cello.

articulate your own hopes

It takes about 15 minutes and is a thoroughly fascinating experience. Sinclair has the gentle ability of a good listener to help you really consider his questions and find truthful answers. Whether or not you are able to fully articulate those answers does not really matter, because as he plays his music back to you – and you read your answers on the score, remembering and reviewing what they were – he allows you to articulate your own hopes and fears and loves to yourself.

If Sinclair allows you to take adventure into the bits of your consciousness you normally hide from yourself, Emma Nutland and Samuel Jameson grab their audiences and take them into the wilds of tropical rainforests and off into outer space with the Von Tuur Hair Salon.

This is a really clever little installation for an audience of half a dozen (more if you have small ones sitting on laps) who sit under humorously decorated hairdryers. Donning headphones they get to go off on an audio trip – with extra twists of smell and touch – that has been chosen with the expectation of that group in mind.

It’s another 15 minute trip, one which takes you somewhere else and brings you back to the museum slightly changed. Even if it is only by being a bit bemused.

And that, really, is the success of this whole event. It takes children and their families from the familiar of the Museum’s great galleries into a place where they do not know they could go. It’s theatre of the kind in which everyone is a performer and everyone is a part of the audience.

Edinburgh International Children’s Festival Opening Weekend.
National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, EH1 1JF
Saturday 27/Sunday 28 May 2017.
Run ended.

The Edinburgh International Children’s Festival runs to Sunday 4 June.
Full details: www.imaginate.org.uk/festival/whats-on/


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Comments (2)

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  1. Emily says:

    A great few hours. The Von Tuur Salon was especially brilliant – I wish I could have gone back again to hear another story.

  2. Marion Donohoe says:

    I agree with Emily. Von Tuur was brilliant, I went to space on my adventure and I would have liked to do some more. I also loved Women Dancing and I had a fantastic time dancing on the steps of the museum.