About Me

My Photo
Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
View my complete profile


Blog Archive

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Imaginate and Starcatchers preview

Published in The Scotsman
Click on thumbnail to view image
Click on thumbnail to view image
Click on thumbnail to view image
Click on thumbnail to view image
Click on thumbnail to view image
Only a few years ago, if you'd have picked up your Scotsman and read an article like this, you might have detected a tone of incredulity on behalf of the journalist. On the one hand, he would be enthusing about the new Bank of Scotland Imaginate Festival programme and saying how great it was that children could see such high quality theatre from all over the world; on the other, he would be unable to suppress his scepticism about a line-up that included theatre aimed at babies.

Surely, he might have suggested, it is fanciful to think you can entertain an audience still to master the art of sitting upright? Surely it is too much for someone in nappies to concentrate on a show for half an hour? And if such a thing were even possible, it would not be necessary

Today, however, such doubts have been dispelled. The landscape has changed and the evidence is there. Liam Sinclair, artistic director of the MacRobert in Stirling, says babycentric performance has become one of the fastest-selling strands in his whole programme. Early years theatre has arrived.

As recently as 2006, despite a booming children's theatre scene, there was virtually nobody in Scotland thinking about playing to toddlers. When a two-year pilot scheme called Starcatchers launched in Edinburgh, it seemed like a big experiment. Even the actors were unsure if it would amount to anything. But look at the programme for this year's Bank of Scotland Imaginate Festival, kicking off in Edinburgh on Monday, and you'll see exactly what it has amounted to. The line-up includes three Starcatchers shows that have no lower age limit at all. As long as you've dried yourself off from the birthing pool, you are welcome to buy a ticket for First Light (about the moon and the dawn meeting at sunrise), Oops a Daisy (a piece of dance theatre set in an upside-down world) and Icepole (a multi-sensory hybrid of art installation, pop concert and theatre).

And that's before we graduate to The Attic, a Starcatchers show about a girl sharing her grandmother's memories, pitched at the ripe old ages of three to five. Throw in White, the sublime Scotsman Fringe First winner created by Andy Manley with Catherine Wheels, and Potato Needs a Bath, a puppet show about dirty vegetables by Shona Reppe, and your children have a wealth of theatrical riches to see before they get anywhere near primary one.

"This year we've got all of the Starcatchers work, which is fantastic, but alongside that you've got those pieces like Potato Needs a Bath and White by people who have been involved in Starcatchers," says Rhona Matheson, project manager of Starcatchers.

"It's interesting to see how the connections are there and that people are drawing their inspiration from each other."

Something fascinating happens when artists turn their attention to entertaining this age group. Even more than older children, babies and toddlers have no preconceptions of what theatre should be. Neither do they have a preference for any of their five senses. It means the Starcatchers artists have found themselves creating shows that are more fluid, interactive and holistic than average.

"This audience provides an opportunity for artists to explore, try things out and do things they might not normally do," says Matheson. "The potential for what artists can create for that audience is vast and that's really exciting."

She gives the example of Icepole, created by Katy Wilson with the instinctively visual approach of a trained designer. Collaborating with actors, a director and a musician, Wilson has made something that, she says, is "a sort of gig, a sort of response, a sort of journey and a sort of daydream". In adult terms, this might sound avant garde, but young audiences are very receptive to it - especially the bit when they can do their own colouring-in.

"Icepole is an installation with performative elements to it," says Matheson. "It could be quite challenging, but actually, the audience really go with it. The children go into a dark space and yet they aren't scared by it - it's an interesting space and there's a journey they're going on. It's not a traditional theatre experience."

All this means that once parents and carers discover early years theatre, they can't get enough of it. Matheson says: "Because there is a level of quality behind the work, people can see the difference between what we're doing and what a clown at a children's birthday party might do.

"There's a different process and ethos behind the work. You can see in White, for example, the children are getting something on one level, but the adults are getting lots of other levels. It's not just people regurgitating nursery rhymes, they're really exploring an artform."

Elsewhere in the Imaginate programme, there is plenty for older children to enjoy. At the top end of the scale, The Dark by Rob Evans requires a teenage audience to venture between different locations in Leith Academy for a spooky adventure about the fear of the unknown.

For other ages, there are shows from Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, England and Scotland, ranging from clowning to opera to puppetry. While the big ones enjoy those shows, their younger siblings will be immersed in Starcatchers' work and quietly turning into the audiences of tomorrow.

• The Bank of Scotland Imaginate Festival is at various venues, Edinburgh, 9-15 May. First Light is also at Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock, on 9 May and Rothes Hall, Glenrothes, on 11 May.

© Mark Fisher 2011
More coverage at

No comments: