Bank Holiday Special: 3 Days of Arts-Inspired Family Fun

If nobody in your household is ready to be dragged kicking and screaming into September just yet, this is your chance to make every last minute of August count! It’s almost Bank Holiday weekend, so here’s my plan for a one-a-day arts fix:

Poetry Saturday
Poetry is just one of a dozen reasons for families to visit the fantastic Curious? festival, as this weekend Kings Cross becomes a maze of discovery. Working with a handful of the 55 arts, culture and science organisations housed in the area, Curious? promises a host of free activities from live art, music, science workshops and pop-up theatre as well as great food and drink, and a dedicated area to busy your toddler! Unmissable for me is the metaphysical poetry recital; Poetrics (Battle Bridge Place, 29th and 30th August, 11am-5pm), which will see words spoken into microphones and transformed into randomly created poetry displayed on 17 special LED panels. If this proves a little too left field, award-winning children’s poet Joseph Coelho will be hosting Curiosity Quest 1 (The Conduit – the Crossing, 29th August, 12.30pm and 3pm) an interactive family performance where you can play your part in a giant group poem (Curated by Poet in the City).

Art Fair Sunday
On their own version of a Beano, the The Art Car Boot Fair (30th August, 12-4pm, £3) is decamping from London for the Bank Holiday weekend, bringing their refreshing antidote to London’s more formal art fair scene to the seaside town of Margate. The car park of Turner Contemporary will be transformed into an open-air gallery, where you can explore a host of original work and special editions, as well as pick up some serious art bargains. Inspired by the relaxed seaside vibe, it all promises to be a bit of a giggle. There’ll be art you can make yourself, 5 minute portraits and a chance to play Pin the Tiara on Edvard Munch’s ‘Scream’. Add this to Turner Contemporary, the Shell Grotto, Dreamland and a gorgeous sandy bay complete with tidal pool and children’s rides and you’ve got the perfect Bank Holiday Sunday. Rain or Shine.

Interactive Theatre Monday
Theatre company non zero one take over the Duffield Studio of the National Theatre’s Clore Learning Centre this weekend and if you’re lucky they are taking your kids with them! In a similar vein to the much talked about Against Captain’s Orders, Ground Control (30th and 31st August, 12.30pm, 2.30pm and 4.30pm, £7) is a kids-only interactive adventure for 7 to 12 year olds, aimed at exploring the themes of space and technology in a more creative way. By taking on the role of Ground Control, children will work together to decide the future of a new planet, with a bit of help from a very intelligent live computer and giant projector screen. You, however, won’t be expected to work nearly as hard as that. Instead you can enjoy the peace and serenity of the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Top Garden & Bar, child-free for an hour.

All events and activities featured on Arts Aloud are subject to availability at time of going to press. No responsibility taken for events that are cancelled or changed at short notice.

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Adventures In Wonderland will leave you grinning from ear to ear

It’s been 150 years since the creation of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, so with Kidsweek tickets abound, I decided to make Adventures in Wonderland my big-ticket theatre jaunt over this year’s summer break.

The promise by children’s theatre group Les Petits, was an interactive family adventure for kids aged 5-10. An opportunity to get Off West End and be part of the production, wandering through a life-size Wonderland that has been created in the atmospheric arts space, The Vaults, located beneath Waterloo station.

Much has been written about Alice’s Adventures Underground, the grown up, more macabre version of the story, created by experiential theatre group Les Enfants Terribles. Yet it was almost impossible to find a dedicated review of the this daytime production by their children’s division, also dedicated to inspiring audiences through imaginative productions and incredible storytelling.

The kids were hooked from the offset. We were led into a dark and dusty replica of Lewis Carroll’s library to hear desperate pleas from poor old Alice, stuck behind the mirrors, and lost in Wonderland. It was our job to find her and get her out. We were ready!

Transported down the rabbit hole, we found ourselves in the famous chequered hallway of doors, with the White Rabbit inviting my companion to drink a shrinking potion in order to lead our group through one of the two doors. Split into two opposing teams, it was now a race against time to find Alice. Along with the reds we followed our card guard from room to room, through dimly lit corridors . In every room we met an important character from the story, each providing clues or posing new questions for Alice’s whereabouts. The pace was fast. From the prose of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee to the riddles of the grinning Cheshire Cat. From the nonsensical ramblings of Humpty Dumpty to a real-life Mad Hatters Tea Party complete with a Mister-Maker-inspired Mad Hatter and real tarts!

The dads of the group were definitely more intimidated by the seething Queen of Hearts than some of the kids. Her tarts stolen, unable to find her garden and stuck in a room full of doors, she wasn’t a happy Queen. Looking around, I could see why. Within minutes of the door closing it became very apparent why were asked to stay close to our little ones at all times. Aside from this specific room which was framed by confusing doors, the sheer scale of the set, and genius maze of corridors would have made a horrifying experience for anybody of any age being left behind by their group.

Adventures in Wonderland has all the spirit and madness of the original book, which at times can make it intimidating and intense as well as exciting, especially for visitors on the younger end of the spectrum. This certainly explains why the organisers are completely unwavering in their instruction not to bring along babes in arms and limit the accompaniment of younger siblings to specific days and times.

What was most impressive about this production, however, is the sheer strength of delivery. Aside from the lavish and scalable set; the seamless direction, punchy dialogue and impressive costumes were first-rate throughout, so much so that I actually forgot that I was even at a children’s production. There was, in my opinion a bit of a missed opportunity with regards to the ending. It’s a shame that the organisers didn’t capitalise on the cosy seated area of the venue to reenact the courtroom scene with us as the judging jury, but I had to remind myself that this was their retelling of the classic, and in their story our mission was to find Alice, not to get to the end of the book.

If you want to avoid any other disappointment don’t (like me) leave all of your belongings (including your money) in the cloakroom. This will render you penniless to buy one of the delicious cakes and tarts on offer at the end and, however impressive the theatre, make you an incredibly unpopular mummy for the rest of the day.

Adventures in Wonderland for us delivered everything that immersive theatre should be. Free from the restrictions of a seated production and at liberty to ham it up with the characters of each room, adults were as excited as children at seeing the story unfold through their eyes. Conversely, for just an hour, our kids were lucky enough to be treated to theatre in its most grown up form. Challenged to give themselves up to the mercy of the story and be whisked along with the production wherever it took them. They understood the urgency of the task, they played along and were ecstatic to finally be rewarded with finding and meeting their hero.

I usually find that you can tell a lot about how much kids have got from their theatrical experience, by what they tell others of their own accord. When I got home I had a message from my companion to the show, who had overheard her daughter recounting our afternoon to her dad. She absolutely hit the nail on the head in communicating her levels of excitement. “Daddy, we didn’t just see Alice in Wonderland, we were actually in Wonderland”. I couldn’t have agreed more. For an hour at least, it felt like we absolutely were.

Adventures in Wonderland is at The Vaults, Launcelot Street Waterloo London, SE1 7AD until 30th August.

Admission: Adults £18.50, Children £12.50 (or Children £Free with Kidsweek tickets, subject to availability). 1 adult ticket to accompany no more than 2 children.

See venue website for show times and other terms and conditions around tickets.

In Pictures: The art of Dreamland, Margate

HemingwayDesign, led by Wayne, Geraldine and Jack Hemingway have worked closely with local artists and Margate enthusiasts to recreate the sights, sounds and even the smells of a good old fashioned seaside fun park. The result is a visual feast for visitors of all ages.

Dreamland Margate, 49-51 Marine Terrace, Margate, Kent, CT9 1XJ
Mon to Weds 10am-6pm, Thurs to Sun 10am-9pm
Admission Adults £17.95, Children 3+ £14.95 (advanced online concessions available)
After 5pm Adults £7.49, Children £4.95 (Thurs-Sun, until the end of August) half price admission after 5pm

5 arts-inspired family day trips from London

If you’re still feeling that your world has shrunk a little too much since having kids, the summer months are a great excuse to venture further afield, with a reduced rush hour, no school run traffic and (hopefully) more hands on deck. Here are 5 family day trips from London with fantastic arts appeal:

1. Explore Henry Moore’s giant sculptures in the open countryside

Henry Moore was an early pioneer of modernism and large-scale public art in the UK and a visit to his former home in Perry Green, Herfordshire offers the chance to be dwarfed by over 20 of his monumental sculptures in the setting that he always intended. Kids will love exploring the 70 acres of sheep-filled gardens and fields, as well as curious barn-based galleries and studios.

The Henry Moore Foundation, Perry Green, Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, SG10 6EE
Sculpture garden’s open Weds-Sun & Bank Holidays, 11am-5pm, 1st May to 25th Oct 2015, admission £15.70 for a family of 4

2. Visit an artist’s enclave with a difference in Dungeness

This other-worldly outpost on the Kent coast has so much for visiting families; a historic lighthouse with panoramic views, a ride on the small and rickety Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway and incredible bird life but curious beachcombers will love treading the delicate pathways to marvel at the curious collection of flotsam and jetsam in the garden surrounding late filmmaker Derek Jarman’s house. Particularly if fish and chips at The Pilot pub lie at the end.

Prospect Cottage, Dungeness, Romney Marsh, Kent TN29 9NB
Lighthouse open daily throughout August, 10:30am-4:30pm, admission adults £4, children £2.50, under 5s free

3. See how Charlie & Lola started life at Mottisfont house and gallery

It’s never cheap visiting any of the magnificent National Trust properties that grace our home counties, but Mottisfont is proving a big draw this summer with an opportunity to explore The Art of Lauren Child. The award-winning creator of Charlie and Lola will be exhibiting 50 original art works in the gallery of this stunning medieval riverside property, alongside other objects that helped inspire the stories, such as Lola’s pink milk glass. Activity weekends extend the theme with craft activities, storytelling and face painting. Outside in the grounds, kids can also try their hand at building a den in the hidden hide out of the Wild Play Trail.

Mottisfont, Hampshire SO51 0LP
The Art of Laurent Child until 6th Sept. Gallery open daily throughout August, 11am-5pm, admission adults£14, children £6.50, National Trust members and under 5s free

4. Seek out hidden street art in Brighton

You don’t need many excuses to jump on a train to Brighton with the kids this summer. Since the development of the amazing seafront boardwalk scattered with artisan stalls and loved by kids of all ages, from roller-skating teens to scooting pre schoolers and bumbling toddlers, Brighton has started to feel like the UK’s answer to Venice Beach. But who’d have though just a few metres back from the seafront, hidden in a the sneaky side streets off of Trafalgar Road, as well as between George Street and St. Andrews Churchyard, and North Laine would be Brighton’s answer to San Francisco’s Mission district? Street art in Brighton really brings to life a different side of the city’s arts community. Be sure to see the incredible music mural on the side of the Prince Albert pub. The kids might not recognise most of the subjects but that didn’t make it any less impressive.

Street art is free to view by all ages, all over the city of Brighton, but Visit Brighton’s top picks is a great place to start.

5. Re-imagine a theme park as a Pleasure Park at Dreamland

Following a 12 year campaign led by The Dreamland Trust and £18m in public funding, the once popular theme park is back from the dead having been stylishly restored under the watchful eye of internationally renowned designer and local resident Wayne Hemingway. Rather than simply create just another theme park, Dreamland pays homage to the golden age of British seaside holidays by recreating the entire experience; right through to the sights, the sounds and the smells. The result is a visual feast; carousels adorned in original traveller art, lovingly restored rides and amusements (including the famous Hurricane Jets), a ballroom, a roller disco and a plethora of sideshows. It needs to be seen to be believed.

Dreamland, 49-51 Marine Terrace, Margate, Kent, CT9 1XJ
Daily, 10am-5pm, admission adults £17.95 adults, children £14.95. Reduced admission Thurs to Sun after 5pm.