This article is from 2009.
Going to the theatre means sitting quietly in a row, right? Not at the Imaginate festival discovers Kelly Apter
Now that it’s settled into its new name, the event formerly known as the Children’s International Theatre Festival is finding bigger and bolder ways to spread its wings. This year, the Bank of Scotland Imaginate Festival has shows in no less than seven locations around the Capital, not to mention its extensive ‘on tour’ programme.
Imaginate’s chief executive, and the man responsible for finding these theatrical gems each year, Tony Reekie explains why. ‘It’s partly intention and partly forced on us by the companies,’ he says. ‘Traditional spaces don’t really work in a lot of cases, they’re not flexible enough to allow these pieces to be enjoyed in the way the companies intended.’
So, alongside more obvious Edinburgh venues, Imaginate is using studios at Dance Base and a patch of land at the Royal Botanic Garden. Ironically, the Dance Base shows don’t contain any dance, but one of them promises to give children an interesting visual perspective. Performed by Dutch company, BonteHond, Lying Down takes place amid a sea of mattresses, on which audience members can sit or lie.
‘In the Netherlands and Flanders they spend a lot of time working on the environment for the audience,’ says Reekie. ‘They’re interested in the whole sensory experience, and know that children are happy to look around them and be surprised and delighted by different things that go on.’
Belgian company, Studio ORKA also thinks outside the box with their innovative show Lava. Stepping inside a beautiful, purpose-built wooden tent at the Royal Botanic Garden, audiences are drawn into a bizarre geological dig searching for little people underground. ‘It’s an unusual show and an absolute joy,’ says Reekie. ‘And there’s an environmental message in there too, about what happens when you interfere with the earth. But it’s education by stealth that you don’t even notice, because of the sheer joy of being with three slightly deranged geologists.’
As usual, Reekie has programmed a wide range of shows to keep all ages happy, from toddlers upwards. This year, however, those at the older end of the spectrum are being especially well catered for, with five shows targeted at ages ten and eleven plus. And once again, unusual surroundings abound. ‘In The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy you enter a 19th century Victoriana storytelling booth full of wind-up projections,’ explains Reekie. ‘And you’re told the story of a boy from another world who’s made of cheese. It’s a shameless excuse to emote.’
While it’s fair to say that the Imaginate Festival has plenty of comedy, there’s also a good deal of poignancy – something accompanying adults often don’t expect but clearly enjoy. ‘Imaginate is for everybody,’ says Reekie. ‘It has to be a truly collective experience in terms of making sure there’s something there for the adults and carers who come along with the children and young people. Because often, what really good theatre for children does is trigger off a lot of memories in adults.’
Bank of Scotland Imaginate Festival, various venues, Edinburgh, Mon 25 May–Mon 1 Jun and on tour. See listings for details.