Interview: Tony Reekie - director of Imaginate children's festival

Interview: Tony Reekie - director of Imaginate children's festival

The 2012 edition of the children's theatre festival has a strong international flavour

He may spend most of his life scouring the world for quality children’s theatre, but even Tony Reekie finds time for a bit of Killing. The Killing, that is, not cold-blooded murder. A big fan of the Danish television crime series, Reekie was less impressed with the American re-make – for largely the same reason that drives his creative choices at work.

‘The original was just so Danish,’ says Reekie, ‘and because Denmark is a place I visit a lot, one of the reasons I enjoyed the programme was it gave a real sense of being from that particular culture.’ That feeling of losing yourself in another world, with a language, accent, viewpoint, even clothes that are somehow different from our own, is one of the great things about Imaginate.

This year, Reekie has invited companies from Australia, Sweden, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland, as well as England and Scotland to his festival. For him, it’s crucial that audiences get the opportunity to see life from another angle.

‘When you do any kind of international event, it’s really important that you allow your audience to explore the way different people and cultures approach ideas and stories,’ says Reekie. ‘And partly that’s about knocking ourselves out of our comfort zone – and I think children are very happy to be knocked out of their comfort zone, because they never really think they’re in one. But it’s good for them to see people who are clearly not doing things in their first language, and know that there’s a wider world out there.’

Reekie also talks about other countries giving ‘a new feel to a familiar story’, never more so than in Dutch theatre company Stella den Haag’s version of Rumpelstiltskin. ‘It’s a story a lot of people know and understand, but there’s a very distinct Dutch twist to it,’ says Reekie. ‘Not only in terms of the staging, but in the way they approach the story. It’s very playful, but it’s also very upfront about the journey the girl goes through – the series of tests she takes make her a stronger person, and I’ve never seen it captured in that way.’

There are 13 shows in this year’s Imaginate Festival, catering for babies as young as four months, right the way up to teenagers. The work itself couldn’t be more diverse, ranging from a gentle dance show for babies to a scary new version of Hansel and Gretel, viewed one person at a time via headphones and a torch in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

One thing all the works have in common, however, is they push the boundaries of what theatre can be, challenging both children, and the adults sitting next to them, to think about things in a different way. Part of that comes from the European content Reekie is always so keen to include.

‘You’re not going to do Death of a Salesman for five-year-olds, but to find what the equivalent of that would be is something I think we should always be searching for,’ says Reekie. ‘And I think a lot of European companies in particular are much more up for having a proper discussion with children, laying things out for them and letting the audience fill in the gap for themselves.’

Imaginate Festival, various venues, Edinburgh, Mon 7–Mon 14 May.

KINDUR - the adventurous life of sheep in Iceland

Edinburgh International Children's Festival

Edinburgh's international children’s festival of performing arts presents a programme of dance, storytelling and puppetry, suitable for anyone with an imagination.

Various venues: Edinburgh

Sat 25 May 2019

Times & prices to be confirmed / 0131 228 1404

Sun 26 May 2019

Times & prices to be confirmed / 0131 228 1404

Mon 27 May 2019

Times & prices to be confirmed / 0131 228 1404

…and 6 more dates until 2 Jun 2019


An enchanting show about the world of colours presented by Frozen Charlotte. Ages 2–5.

By the Seat of Your Pants

Play following Fritz, Franz and Rudy as they sit and await their fate. Slapstick and clowning abound in the latest show from Plutot la Vie. Ages 7+.

Cloud Man

A chance for kids to join cloud expert Cloudia on a journey up, up and away into the clouds in the hope of finding a lesser-spotted Cloud Man. Featuring a blend of puppetry, storytelling and sumptuous visuals. Ages 4–7.


An exciting and perhaps slightly scary promenade show from Swiss company TricksterP. Audience members in ones or twos venture into the forest armed only with a torch and a set of headphones, to experience a retelling of the familiar tale of Hansel and Gretel. One or two people can walk through the performance area at…

Aston's Stones

A touching story for wee ones about a boy who gives a loving home to two stones, from Sweden's Teater Pero. Ages 3–6.


Windmill Theatre from Australia introduce kids to the lovable character of Grug, a small stripy haystack with feet and a nose. Ages 3–6.

Kindur: The Adventurous Life of Sheep in Iceland

A show from Italy's Compagnia TPO, employing unique technology and captivating projections to tell the story of some adventurous sheep exploring a landscape of elves and trolls. Ages 6+.

Mikey and Addie

A new show from Andy Manley, Rob Evans and macrobert, about a boy called Mikey and a girl called Addie, life-changing moments, secrets, lies and growing up. Ages 9+.


Holland's Stella Den Haag company tells the well-known fairytale with live music. Ages 8+.

Sunflowers and Sheds

M6 Theatre Company presents the enchanting story of a friendship formed down on the allotment, augmented by original music. Ages 5+.

This (Baby) Life

A gently playful two-way dance experience/performance for babies and their grown-ups from Australia's Sally Chance Dance. NB there is no online booking for this show. Ages 4–18 months.


Lu Kemp and Oliver Emanuel, in association with macrobert, present an English-language adaptation of Belgian writer Jan Sobrie's enormously successful play for young people. The piece tells a challenging story about a ten-year-old boy with a penchant for colourful untruths and a lot of growing up to do. Ages 11+.


A new show from French company Arcosm (who brought Echoa to 2009's Imaginate festival) telling through dance the story of a man whose life is nothing but routine, until a secret dream world brings escape and a little disruptive variety to his life. Ages 7+.

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