Imaginate Festival Launches 2012 Programme
When the Bank of Scotland Imaginate Festival says it's serious about showing high-quality theatre to children, it doesn't do things by halves. Or rather, it does. Half a year in the life of a child makes a huge difference. It's all the time you need to go from a baby to a toddler, from a crawler to a walker, from a listener to a talker, from a watcher to a reader.
As every parent knows, all those stages in a child's life are clearly defined – and what a young person is interested one year is rarely the same thing that interests them the next. That's why the Bank of Scotland Imaginate Festival, the largest of its kind in the UK, is precise about the age groups each of its 13 shows is designed to appeal to.
And nobody misses out. The suggested age range for this year's entry-level show, for example, is between four and eighteen months: even if you're in nappies, there's a performance for you in this pioneering festival.
If you don't believe children so young could focus on a piece of theatre, you'll be amazed to see quite how captivated they can be. The festival has been increasingly catering to babies and toddlers in recent years, offering shows that have been among the most richly imaginative of all. Parents know they're on to a good thing and can't get enough of such work.
So the grown-ups will be giving a warm welcome to Australia's Sally Chance Dance and its 40-minute show This (Baby) Life. The company developed the performance in nurseries, where it researched the way babies interact with the adult world. The show uses dance, sound and images and gives the young audience the option to get involved or sit back and watch. With everyone sitting on rugs, the three dancers lead the audience gently into a world of mirroring games and mesmerising musical sequences, opening up new avenues of enquiry as it does so.
You need to be scarcely any older to appreciate Paperbelle by Frozen Charlotte Productions, one of Scotland's brightest companies catering to the very young. This show is for two-year-olds and anyone up to the first year of primary school, although the grown-ups will be enchanted as well. It takes us into a world made of paper where the young Paperbelle is getting to grips with the introduction of colour into a previously plain landscape. It's about the fear and excitement of change and unpredictability.
The Bank of Scotland Imaginate Festival prides itself on its internationalism, lining up companies from all over the world alongside the best in home-grown work. Among this year's overseas visitors is Teater Pero from Sweden with Aston's Stones, a story about a boy whose love of collecting stones is starting to get out of hand. It's a funny and touching show for three-to-six year olds about appreciating the small things in life.
Playing to the same market is a second Australian company, Windmill Theatre, bringing Grug, a puppet performance based on the picture books by Australian illustrator Ted Prior. It’s about an odd-looking bush creature who looks like a striped haystack with an unusually generous temperament. Performed with passion and imagination, it delights a young audience.
From Scotland, Ailie Cohen is a charming puppeteer whose work is characterised by strong storytelling and sumptuous visuals. In Cloud Man, she takes four-to-seven year olds on an adventure into the skies with cloud expert Cloudia who is on a mission to see a Cloud Man with her very own eyes. Cohen takes a simple idea and makes it surprising, funny and moving.
The same can be said of Sunflowers and Sheds, a play about the relationship between an old man and a lively Russian girl. Occupying neighbouring allotments, they grow from frostiness to friendship with the passing seasons. Performed by England's M6 Theatre Company, it will delight the over-fives, not least because of a magical set featuring vegetables that really do grow.
Kindur is one show children won't forget in a hurry. Everybody who watches it will be given a woollen heart. If your heart lights up, it's a signal to join in. Subtitled "The Adventurous Life of a Sheep in Iceland", this interactive performance by Italy's Compagnia TPO places primary-aged children at the centre of a high-tech journey into the imagination.
There's another lively Scottish contribution in the form of By the Seat of Your Pants, a playful piece of knockabout comedy for the over-sevens by Plutôt la Vie and Howden Park Centre. Performed by three silent-movie style clowns, it is a warm-spirited piece of visual theatre, using wooden chairs as the starting point for a series of hilarious sketches. Musical chairs will never be the same again.
Three further shows for a similar age-range have proved themselves abroad. From France comes Compagnie Arcosm with Traverse, a musical fantasy named after Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre where it plays. From the Netherlands comes Stella den Haag with Rumpelstiltskin, a classy staging of the scary Grimm's tale. And from Switzerland comes TricksterP with .h.g., in which two children at a time venture into the world of Hansel and Gretel with only headphones and torch to help them. It proves immersive theatre is not the sole preserve of adult audiences.
Finally, Scotland is offering two productions for older children. The first is part of the London 2012 Festival, the cultural tie-in with the Olympic Games. Called Mickey and Addie, it is created by Andy Manley (acclaimed for his role in Catherine Wheels' White) with Rob Evans and the MacRobert in Stirling. Aimed at the over-nines, it is about two ten-year-olds coming to terms with their parents' secrets and a life that is about to change.
For audiences up to their early teens, Titus takes a serious look at love, loneliness, adolescence and death. Working with a script by Belgium's Jan Sobrie, Lu Kemp and Oliver Emanuel present us with a boy who has ended up perched on the school roof as he tries to cope with the pressures of growing up and getting the balance right between the boring truth and fantastic lies.
Whatever else your children learn from the Bank of Scotland Imaginate Festival, it’ll be that the world of fantasy and imagination is a marvellously enjoyable place to explore.
Bank of Scotland Imaginate Festival, 7–14 May, www.imaginate.org.uk/festival