Review: Edinburgh International Children's Festival 2019
- Kelly Apter
- 4 June 2019
Our favourites from this year's line-up include The Invisible Man, Small Wonders and I Wish I Was A Mountain
Each year, the Edinburgh International Children's Festival team scours the globe to find fresh, unique and challenging work for young audiences, from toddlers to teens. The 2019 programme served up many thought-provoking visual feasts – here are our favourites from this year's line-up.
The Invisible Man
Children are often audible during live theatre, but the amount of screams and squeals this complete hoot of a show provokes is on a whole other level. Theater Artemis make surprise a key priority, aiming to continually take its audience in unexpected directions, which leads to delicious shocks and thrills that are utterly delightful even for the grown-ups in the crowd, well aware of the technical wizardry at play.
The performance starts with a stage manager, pacing in frustration at the lack of an audience (he claims not to see us), performers or indeed a show. When a door suddenly opens by itself and an invisible figure sits at the piano and starts playing, the first squeals emerge. And they keep on coming, with each strange, ghostly happening.
Making the audience 'invisible' in the eyes of all but one of the performers is ingenious, leading to riotous cries of 'we're here!' from the young crowd. As too is the clever filming, which cuts between real-time and pre-recorded video to hilarious effect (and yes, more screaming). Who and what is or isn't visible constantly shifts, ensuring that audience engagement never flags.
The 'show' itself doesn't happen – just 60 minutes of pre-amble while the performers and stage manager try to work out what's going on. You can scarcely imagine the amount of time this Netherlands-based company put into planning and preparing The Invisible Man, but every single second pays off.
I Wish I Was A Mountain
Given that this show is all about wishes, I'll put in a bid for Toby Thompson to come round to my house and entertain my family and I every evening. Netflix no more – just this gentle yet captivating storyteller delivering tales of wonder in his wonderfully poetic language.
Inspired by a Herman Hesse fairy tale, I Wish I Was A Mountain takes us to a far-away place and long-ago time, 'where people didn't have Facebook – just faces, and books'. Attending their annual festival, the villagers are delighted to find a side-show where you can make a wish come true. Inevitably, most wish for wealth or beauty, neither of which last. But what if, poses Thompson, we wished to have exactly what we've got right now, this minute – then we'd never have need for wishes.
It's a penetrating thought, perhaps aimed more at the adults in the audience – but the tale itself, and its delivery, is for everyone. As the story unfolds, the stage – covered in tiny wooden houses, record players and a piano – all come into their own. Rooftops are opened, lights twinkle, LPs are popped onto the turntable and piano keys are played. The sense of wonder produced with each gift the set gives us sitting amiably alongside Thompson's calm and assured delivery.
In a post-show Q&A, one little girl asks 'why was the story sad sometimes?' – 'because life is sad sometimes,' replies Thompson, 'and sometimes it's happy and joyous.' Yes, it is, especially with a storyteller like him to brighten our day.