Imagine 2017 is a great big hygge of a children’s festival

It’s that time again! Booking is now open for one of the biggest and most exciting events in the family friendly arts calendar, Southbank Centre’s 2017 Imagine Children’s Festival.

Running for the duration of February half term (9-19 February 2017), the festival is conveniently timed, at exactly the midpoint in the year before our beloved Edinburgh Fringe, providing a much-needed fix of arts and cultural activities which span theatre, dance, literature, spoken word, workshops and installations.

An extension of the Southbank Centre’s season Nordic Matters, this year’s festival celebrates all that is great and good about Nordic society; equality, sustainability and play, responding with an incredible programme which is diverse, inclusive and affordable, with more than half the line-up this year being free.

Proving no child is too young to enjoy Imagine, highlights for the under 3’s include the fully immersive performance; Neverland, which uses 360 degree video projections and original music to tell the story of a child’s imagination, as well as circus performances for all the family in Wow Hoop. There’s also a chance for you to prove you’ve still got it (as well as no pressure for little ones to stay quiet, or stay put) thanks to the infectious Groove Baby, Rave-a-Roo and Swedish Baby Rave.

Those with pre-schoolers (3-5’s) will probably already be more than familiar with The Gruffalo and Room on a Broom, but will not have seen anything like the Aurora Orchestra (conducted by Terry Davies) in René Aubry’s inspired scores, breathing new life into these well-loved film adaptations. Lively littluns will love the slightly surreal, Finnish dinosaur heavy metal band, Hevisaurus, who are making their London premiere following unprecedented success in their home country. Those preferring a slightly more mellow tempo might prefer Kangaroo Kisses, a fantastical interactive story-telling session with award-winning actor and writer Nandana Dev Sen.

Parents and carers visiting with older children are in for a celeb-tastic treat with dad’s favourite, breakfast radio star Christian O’Connell, introducing his first kids book, Radio Boy. Comedian and author Julian Clary and award-winning illustrator David Roberts will also be reading and live drawing, as they introduce their new book The Bolds on Holiday. Denmark’s most famous export LEGO® will be on-site inviting children to build their city of the future, fresh from building their own flagship store in London’s Leicester Square and building rather large walls between themselves and the Daily Mail. For older theatre-lovers there’s the incredible Danyah Millersprinkling her storytelling gold dust onto Michael Morpurgo’s enchanting tale, Why The Whales Came, following last year’s acclaimed treatment of I Believe In Unicorns.

From my discussions with Imagine’s own Tamsin Ace a few months ago, it was clear that the festival’s popularity shows no sign of wavering, which makes it so surprising that no other arts institutions have taken up the mantle to challenge their family-friendly crown. If (like us) you can’t wait until February for most of these delights, next month the Southbank Centre unveils its first ever UK exhibition on Moomins, in their long running immersive and interactive exhibition Adventures in Moominland. The exhibition is devised from the work of Finnish author Tove Jansson, and promises a host of theatrical sets and rare archive illustrations.

Arts Aloud is lucky enough to be attending the preview, meaning you’ll get our verdict as quick as a flash, in fact, quicker than you can say “Jack Frost”, or “Jokul Frosti” for our Nordic friends.

Imagine Festival takes over the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre from 9-19 February 2017.
See website for details of the full programme.

WIN A National Art Pass for the whole family!

This year, Arts Aloud has reviewed more than 25 arts and culture activities, and seen many many more, all with the kids in tow.

If you want to follow our lead and explore more art together as a family, why wait until the other side of Christmas to make it your New Years resolution?

Arts Aloud have teamed up with Art Fund to offer one lucky winner a National Art Pass for them and their entire family!

This gorgeous little gift is your chance to open up a world of art, granting you, another adult and any children in your family under 16, access to over 240 of the UK’s charging galleries and museums. You can also get 50% off major exhibitions at Tate, National Gallery and the V&A (to name but a few) as well as, most importantly, discounts in many of their shops and cafés.

The Family National Art Pass is valid for a whole year and comes with a super-cute pocket sized map, offering oodles of information and inspiration on where to go and what to see. From world-famous art galleries, to historic houses and local hidden gems, the guide covers every concivable corner of the UK.

All you need to do is head over to the Arts Aloud Twitter page, follow Arts Aloud and Retweet the pinned prize draw post to validate your entry.

The prize draw closes on the 9th December with a winner announced via Twitter shortly after.

Full terms and conditions can be found here. Good luck!

William Kentridge: Thick Time – A quirky sideshow you’ll never want to end

I was hugely disappointed to not be able to attend the opening of William Kentridge: Thick Time at the end of September. Work commitments, children’s parties and general life admin took over and before long it was mid-November and we still hadn’t made it to the Whitechapel Gallery for this acclaimed exhibition by the South African artist.

Drawing inspiration from across the entire arts spectrum, from early black and white cinema to animation, puppetry and literature, with content universally suitable for all and set out at scale in 6 installation-style rooms, this exhibition showed a lot of promise for family visitors.

After pondering the intriguing (yet static) Untitled, Bicycle Wheel (2012) for a moment, we could hear exciting things happening just around the corner. Heeding the caution from the gallery staff regarding the volume of musical accompaniment, we were met by The Refusal of Time (2012); a multi-sensory installation centered around a loom-like generator, whose audio intensity might feel somewhat intimidating for the very young.

We joined the installation at the point where the metronomes began to gather pace alongside the industrial sized breathing sculpture, drowning the room in hypnotic sound and building to a crescendo so irresistible, we were quickly drawn in to keep time. By this point my young companion (age 3) needed to escape, yet the hypnotic nature of this installation meant that she continued to drag me back at least three times, allowing us ten more minutes of the total thirty minute mediation on time and space.

Moving past the giant tapestries (which were a surprise hit), we huddled into a cosy corner to watch Second-hand Reading (2013), a mesmerising flip book film of illustrations which sprung to life on the pages of the Short Oxford English Dictionary, all accompanied by a dreamy soundtrack reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig in the Sky.

Don’t miss the cleverly doctored staircase as you head up to the brilliant (but slightly creepy) miniature model theatre, Right Into Her Arms 2016. You’ll no doubt be side tracked by the social sculpture on the stairwell, a permanent exhibit which never seems to tire as a secret hideaway for younger ones exploring the space.

It’s the second floor where things get really playful; not just in the form of a sensor activated sewing machine for those who get too close, but in the intriguing array of doors which pay host to Kentridge’s politically charged O Sentimental Machine (2015) – a five-channel video installation with four megaphones. The doors are obviously out of bounds, but visitors are welcome to contemplate this atmospheric montage of historical events on the rug or the chairs provided.

There’s nothing more fascinating than watching an artist at work, and the show culminates with our personal highlight from Gallery 9, a 9-channel video installation, capturing the creator. Here, work is both created and uncreated, from magical vanishing murals to child-like animations such as Journey to the Moon, this work feels so alive, we were convinced that when the artist comically climbs a ladder in 7 Fragments, he would pop right out of the top of the screen and right into the room beside us. Every screen captured my little one’s imagination, so much so that it gifted me at least ten minutes to absorb what was on offer here and even more time enjoy and discuss it together.

Exciting to navigate and highly visual, Thick Time has the feel of a curious and quirky sideshow that you’ll never want to end. Enjoyably noisy and endlessly entertaining, this exhibition just keeps on giving, and for once you’ll have the luxury of being able to soak it up in a ‘low risk’ set up, perfect for those visiting with kids of any age.

Whilst The Infinite Mix has been the highlight of our arts calendar this year, this audio visual extravaganza comes a very close second. So don’t drag your feet to the tune of a super-slow accordion, get yourself there quick, before it all ends on 15th January.


William Kentridge: Thick Time is at the Whitchapel Gallery until 15th January 2017
77-82 Whitechapel High St, London E1 7QX
Tuesday to Sunday 11am-6pm, Thursday 11am-9pm, Closed on Monday
Admission from £11.95, children under 16 free, concessions available


Want to visit with a little one under 3? Book now to enjoy Whitechapel Gallery’s brilliant Crib Notes session on the 7th December led by Sofia Victorino 

Whilst you’re there: Alicja Kwade’s Medium Median makes a brilliant compliment to the celestial aspects of Kentridge’s work. This mobile installation features twenty four 21st century mobile handsets revolving in 3D, vocalising passages from Genesis as the sky charts receive information from GPS satellites on the current locations of stars.

What’s nearby? A few doors down, the brilliant and spacious Grounded does great coffee, superb breakfasts, healthy salads and yummy cakes. The team are welcoming and extremely family friendly. Spitalfields City Farm is also a short walk away. 

Arts Aloud Review: The Magic Paintbrush

For their latest outing Springs Dance Company, the contemporary dance company known for their unique yet accessible productions, have taken a Chinese folk tale and not just brought it up to date, but thrown it firmly into the future.

The story is somewhat Orwellian in nature. Set in a time where the finer things in life are gone, and only a culture of relentless work, greed and big business remain, we’re met with an eerily misty set, dominated by scaffolding and bursting with searchlights looking for slackers. Amongst the grey, we find a little girl (Emily Young) who refused to be brought down. Her dance and play echoes of lost times, and leads her into a chance meeting with a magical man (Charles Washington), who gifts her a paint brush, to transform the world she lives in, for her and those around her. Before long we learn that the paintbrush also has a mind of its own, and even when challenged, it is unwavering in its mission to spread only wonder and good.

The choreography by Darren Ellis is most definitely the star of the show here, contributing to brilliant storytelling and working hard to hold the attention of our young viewers, even when the soundtrack and the muted pingu-style dialogue become a bit monotonous. Although the dream sequences give rise to some beautiful shadow puppetry, for little ones, however, the production was ever so slightly let down by the confusing mix of over-simplified dialogue brought together with quite grown up staging, leaving the production lacking in real colour and slightly at odds with its age-billing.

That said, for those visitors fooled by the old-fashioned title, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this very futuristic production, a story which captures some timelessly important messages for our children; real magic only happens when you focus on what’s important in life, placing value on friendships, shared ideals and the beauty of human kindness.

ArtsAloud enjoyed The Magic Paintbrush at artsdepot on 30th October on a complimentary ticket.
The production is now touring the UK. See website for dates and details of venues near you