Arts-lovers guide to summer family fun

However much time you have to spend with the children over the school holidays, the arts is awash with some fantastic family friendly fun, with many events and activities happening all summer long. Here’s my arts-lovers guide to a summer of family fun!

S is for Shakespeare’s Globe

Celebrating literature and the art of storytelling, from 28-30 July the globe hosts everything from talks with Michael Morpurgo to interactive Shakespeare workshops. Advance booking highly recommended. See website for tickets and times.

U is for Udderbelly

Catch the last few gems of this family spectacular, which has been occupying the South Bank since April. The Australian acrobats staging Children Are Stinky (22-27 July) wowed the crowds at Edinburgh last year with their daredevil stunts, whilst Jungle Book (1-24 August) brings Rudyard Kipling’s well-known tale bang up to date, setting it in an urban jungle and packing it with street dance and circus.

M is for Museum Trips for Kids

Remember our recent trip to David Hockney with Imagine Art Club? Bringing artists and exhibitions to life in a way that so few galleries do, the enigmatic Aga returns with a host of visits planned to fill the dying days of the holidays. The sessions, which combine an informative exhibition tour with some practical art techniques, take in Matisse at the Royal Academy (29 & 30 August) and Fahrelnissa Zeid’s abstract art at Tate Modern (3 September).

M is for Mad Hatter!

Les Petits will be occupying the atmospheric tunnels of The Vaults almost every day of the summer holidays, with their immersive interpretation of C S Lewis’ classic, Adventures in Wonderland (until 3 September). If you’re looking for something more summery, Sixteenfeet Productions are presenting their own unique retelling in some of London’s loveliest green spaces, including Brockwell Park (22 July to 31 August), Morden Hall Park (4-7 August), Streatham Rookery (10-14 August) and Osterley Park (16-20 August). There’s also a chance to attend a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

E is for Eclectic

National Theatre’s free River Stage returns to the South Bank for almost the entire summer break this year, promising an eclectic mix of live theatre, DJs, family fun, dance, cinema, workshops and live music. Don’t miss the all-female performance troupe Figs in Wigs and their creative tribute to the 80s (29 July, 15.15) and The Jukeboxes (5 August, 12.00 and 14.45) who recreate classic pop videos using props, puppets and wigs. There’s also a beat-boxing vocal workshop with UK beatboxing champion Grace Savage (12 August, 14.00).

R is for Royal Academy

A few weeks ago I reviewed the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition on behalf of Kids in Museums, and I was so impressed at the endless variety of work, from world-renowned artists such as Tracey Emin and Bob and Roberta Smith, to emerging artists and architects. We also loved the handy Art Detectives pack, free to family visitors in order for them to get the most out of the show. See website for details of tickets and opening times. Exhibition runs until 20 August. While you’re there, as part of exhibition Second Nature: The Art of Tunnicliffe, there’s also the RA’s first ever dedicated family corner with permanent activities, as well as a series of workshops and story-tellings.

O is for Outdoor Art

It should really be P is for Pavilion, as both the Serpentine and Dulwich Picture Gallery celebrate all that is great about art in the outdoors, showing off their spectacular summer pavilions. As well as a family day (22 July) Serpentine are hosting a programme of lunchtime talks, whilst every Wednesday in August, Dulwich Picture Gallery will be hosting drop-in art making sessions for families, inspired by their exhibition Sargent: The Watercolours, and the design of their first ever pavilion. If you love outdoor art, make sure you also don’t miss Frieze Sculpture 2017 (until 8 October). This first-ever summer display of sculpture in the English Gardens of Regents Park is absolutely free, and brings together 25 new works by leading 20th-century artists and contemporary artists from around the world.

F is for Festival

Nobody does festivals better than Southbank Centre and alongside the usual beach and water fountain fun, the Summertime festival extends this year’s theme of Nordic Matters with contemporary circus Cirkus Cirkör (13-16 August), the continuation of Adventures in Moominland (until 20 August) and a weekend celebrating Swedish feasting, craft and Nordic music (19-20 August).

F is for Framed Film Club

Framed Film Festival returns to Barbican later in the year but the Framed Film Club picks up again every Saturday in September with a programme specially curated by children’s films by author Jamila Gavin. Popular kids flick Ratatouille sneaks into the end of the summer holidays (2 September, 11am), but more exciting is The Adventures of Prince Achmed (9 September) with introduction from Ms Gavin herself, as well as a live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne. See website for tickets and age restrictions.

U is for Up

Well, Pop Up. As well as your last chance to catch the immersive exhibition The Fantastic World of Dr. Seuss (ends 3 September), this summer, Discover Story Centre will be staging 2 pop-up playgrounds. Illustrators and artists Pencil & Help will be hosting a Pop-Up Poetry Playground (5-20 August) where you can make a poem out of big bendy shapes and draw a poem to take home with you, then artist Kristi Minchin unveils her interactive Geometric Playground (21 August to 3 September) with cogs to turn, levers to pull and pendulums to swing. See website for opening times and details of day passes. Entry is free from 21 July to 14 August to those living or working in Newham.

N is for National Portrait Gallery

Inspired by the BP Portrait Award 2017, the gallery has planned a programme of free family workshops and activities (24 July to 4 August) including painting, drawing and a chance to learn more about judging a portrait competition. The jewel in the crown is the  special Playdoh Portraits session (20 August, 13.00 for 3+, 15.00  for 7+) with artist Eleanor Macnair, where visitors recreate a portrait from the gallery’s collection using nothing but play doh. Tickets are free and available one hour before the event.


Family friendly arts activities for Easter

Whether you’re running out of ideas at the end of week one, or you’ve just broken up with the holidays ahead of you, the arts have excelled this Easter with a whole host of treats from across the spectrum. Here’s my top picks for families.

David Hockney at Tate Britain
Until 29th May, 10am to 6pm, Adults £19.50, Children £17.50, Under 12s free (up to four per family), All ages
If you weren’t aware that one of the greatest British artists of our time is currently exhibiting his biggest every collection of work at Tate Britain, where have you been? Alongside a host of famous works, his spectacular double portraits and mind-blowing digital work makes this unmissable for kids.

Vuelos by Aracaladanza at Sadlers Wells
14th April 3pm, 15th April 11am and 3.30pm, Adults £18, Children £12, Recommended age 5+
Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s quest to make man fly, this playful production will leave young viewers wanting to take flight! Forming the centrepiece of Sadler’s Wells annual Family Weekend, the performance dates are accompanied by a mini festival, as the doors of this seemingly intimidating venue are being thrown open for families, inviting them to take part in storytelling, workshops, games and craft activities. If this isn’t enough, Sadler’s Wells still have a few tickets left for their infamous My First Ballet, off-site at the Peacock Theatre.

Wicked Wednesdays workshops at Wilton’s Music Hall
12th April, 11am to 3pm, Free, Recommended age 6+
Any opportunity to introduce the children to this London treasure housed in a fascinating part of the East End, is not to be missed. Using the original Victorian wallpaper in the Mahogany bar as inspiration, families are invited to design and make their own, in this free to drop-in creative workshop.

We’re Stuck! at Shoreditch Town Hall
12th to 15th April, various show times, Adults £12, Children £10, Recommended age 7-12
Whilst we are on the subject of magnificent historical buildings, not a million miles down the road, this Grade II listed wonder is debuting a brand new interactive show for children, inspired by the latest educational neuroscience around our relationship with maths. Using comedy, clowning and general silliness, the show promises a voyage of discovery exploring how amazing and utterly rubbish our brains can be at maths – and how we can best grow our grey matter.

Tudor Tales and Treats at The Charterhouse
14th April 2017, 11am to 3pm, Drop in suggested donation £3, All ages
As part of a pan-London celebration of literature, Cityread has teamed up with the unique Charterhouse to transport visitors back to the 16th century, in a family day packed with storytelling, sweet-making and traditional Tudor dance. Once a monastery, a boys school, a private mansion and now an almshouse, you couldn’t pick a more atmospheric location to explore SJ Parris’ Tudor thriller Prophecy, the focus of a number of more grown-up events as part of this year’s collective read.

Urban Festival at Southbank Centre
Until 17th April, See website for full programme and admission charges, all ages.
No half term would be complete without a trip to the Southbank Centre, and for those who have chosen to stay in London over half term and celebrate the art and artists of our city, Urban Festival is most definitely for you. Quite a bit of the pre bookable programme is now sold out, but if you miss the free Fun DMC hip-hop disco in the Clore Ballroom this weekend, then definitely drop in to Craft the City on 15th and 16th April and create your own city of the future entirely out of cardboard.

Affordable Arts Activities for Half Term in London

Half term is fast approaching, and if you’ve been unorganised, don’t panic and throw away a fortune on last minute fun. Whether you’re visiting London, or lucky enough to live here, look to the arts and you’ll always find plenty going on. Here I gift you, Arts Aloud’s definitive list of inspirational activities, without the city price-tag.

Affordable Art

London is currently awash with fabulously free, family friendly art, much of which we have road-tested and given a big thumbs up! On the South Bank, it’s easy to while away a whole morning in the ever-reliable Tate Modern. Soak up the immersive acoustics and flying objects of Philippe Parreno’s Anywhen in the Turbine Hall (Reopens 10th Feb, Sun-Thur 10am-6pm, Sat & Sun 10am-10pm, Free) or interact with the best of new art in The Tanks. Plus don’t miss their BP Family Festival (11th & 12th Feb, Free) offering even more in the way of play, performance, sound and dance. Meanwhile, north Londoners should be privileged that the magnificent Passage/s installation by Do Ho Suh is currently on their doorstep at Victoria Miro, and visitors to artsdepot won’t even need to ward-off little fingers, as artist Yuen-Ying Lam invites interaction with all works in her latest exhibition To Hold and Be Held (12th to 18th Feb, Daily, see website for opening hours). If you made it to our recommendation at the Barbican a few weeks back, you’ll love the current 7-part performance art installation by Sonia Boyce: We move in her way at the ICA (Tues-Sun 11am-6pm, £1 Day Membership). Staying central, it’s your final chance to don some 3D glasses and get lost in the mesmerising digital art of Lucy Raven at Serpentine Gallery (until 12th Feb, Tues-Sun 10am-6pm, Free).

Thrifty Theatre

When is opera ever free? Hardly ever. So make haste and kick-off half term in the East End, with Ulla’s Odyssey at Rich Mix, a nautical adventure which follows fourteen year old Ulla in her attempt to sail the world single-handed (12th Feb, 2pm, Free but ticketed, age 7+). The performance is preceded by an interactive workshop, giving kids a chance to sing and speak out (12.30pm, Free but ticketed). Half term also brings about a rare chance for families to enjoy a ‘taster’ of brand new children’s theatre in Theatre in the Pound at The Cockpit Theatre (14th & 15th Feb, 12-3pm, £1). Performances contain three, 15 minute shows and range from puppetry and opera, to Shakespeare, with a chance to have your say at the end. Alternatively, if you’re looking for theatre in a slightly more historical setting, grab the opportunity to introduce kids to the magical Wilton’s Music Hall. For a short run only, the equally magical (yet slightly more stupendous) Morgan & West’s Utterly Spectacular Magic Show For Kids (and childish grown-ups) promises brain boggling illusion and lots of crazy capers, not forgetting a whole lot of magic! (16th & 17th Feb, 11.45am, tickets from £5, age 5+).

Fabulously Frugal Festivals

What do you mean you’ve never heard of Imagine Children’s Festival? You must have been asleep for the last 3 months, I’ve been writing about it since November. Back at our beloved Southbank Centre, the pinnacle of the children’s arts calendar arrives in the form of a 10 day extravaganza of theatre, dance, literature, spoken word, workshops and installations. Yes, the big-ticket productions are pricey, but more than 50% of the programme is now free, with highlights this year including a free pedal-powered screening of The Little Mermaid with prizes for the best underwater-themed costumes and a free bedtime story in the Clore Ballroom to close each day of the festival. Also on a mission to use the arts to inspire kids, is SMASHfest, a festival dedicated to all things STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). The festival runs the entire week of half term at The Albany Theatre and Deptford Lounge, and features something every day, from comedy and variety shows, to interactive installations, experiments and film, many of which are ‘pay what you can’, or absolutely free.

Penniless Poetry

If the hustle and bustle of the Imagine Children’s Festival gets too much, then the serenity of the Saison Poetry Library is a brilliant place to escape, offering a chance to rest and peruse Britain’s most comprehensive collection of poetry. Prefer the words to come to you? Well there’s currently an interesting reinvention of work by Philip Larkin, some created entirely from Neon by artist DJ Roberts (Tues-Sun 11am-8pm, Free). For those who enjoy crafting their own poetic prose, Sara Hirsch will be hosting two drop-in workshops (15th Feb, 10.30am-12.30pm and 1-3pm, Free) at the Museum of London, inviting your input into a poem about the Great Fire of London, with a performance of the final draft at 4pm the same day.

**DISCLAIMER**Information and availability correct at time of publishing. Arts Aloud can not take any responsibility for scheduling changes or missed performances. Please check in advance of visit to avoid disappointment. Happy half term xx 

Enjoy the silence: Family friendly highlights from the London International Mime Festival

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I reviewed the fabulous Kite at the Soho Theatre, part of the London International Mime Festival. Having criticised the festival in the past for having too few family friendly performances, in this, their 40th anniversary year, the festival has come back bigger and broader with even more on offer for younger viewers.

Promising the very best and newest work, this month-long celebration of contemporary visual theatre embraces circus, mask and puppetry, as well as physical and object theatre, showcasing home-grown talent alongside artists from all over the world. Although most performances are still biased towards the evening, there are plenty of weekend matinees to choose from.

Here’s our top 5 picks…

Barons Perchés at the Platform Theatre, Central Saint Martins (Age 7+)
11th to 14th January, Wed to Fri 7.30pm, Sat 6pm, Tickets £18 (£16 concessions)
70 mins/no interval
In a sequel to Fenêtres, a production inspired by Italo Calvino’s story, The Baron in the Trees, this story rejoins the disillusioned young nobleman in his self-imposed exile, now with the appearance of an unexplained companion. Whether a shadow, a brother, doppelgänger or his alter ego, Mathurin Bolze’s unique physical theatre, explores how the friendship plays out inside their intimate living space.

Teatro Delusio at The Peacock Theatre (Age 7+)
12th to 15th January, Thurs to Sat 7.30pm, Sun 2.30pm, Tickets £15 to £29
70 mins/no interval
Don’t be spooked by the curious masks! Instead, be wowed by three impressive quick-change artists playing some thirty different characters, as leading theatre company Familie Flöz bring their Edinburgh comedy to London. Set backstage in a concert hall, three theatrical technicians feel they’re on the wrong side of the curtain, and imagine life in the spotlight, as they battle to fulfil their own dreams and ambitions.

Marée Basse at the Barbican Theatre (Age 8+)
17th to 21st January, Tues to Sat 6.30pm, Sat matinee 1pm, Tickets £18
60 mins / no interval
Most of us parents and carers are more than familiar with that dip in the day when thoughts start to turn to drink, but you might be less aware that it is commonly known as ‘marée basse’. Sounding almost like a Two Ronnies sketch, having hit the bottle, faded variety acrobats Benjamin and Mickael embark on a journey of one-upmanship, which is not for the faint-hearted. Daring acrobatics, knife-throwing and even apple peeling, feature in Sacekripa‘s deadpan clown around, all set in their ramshackle home.

Nothing to Say at Jacksons Lane (Age 5+)
20th to 22nd January, Fri 8pm, Sat 6pm, Sun 3pm, Tickets £18 (£16 concession)
70 mins / no interval
Winner of both the 2014 Barcelona City Circus and Catalunia Circus awards, this playful performance by Leandre takes classic clowning away from slapstick comedy and into a more charming space, promising to enchant young viewers with a host of magic and surprise in this UK premiere.

Throwback at Jacksons Lane (Age 8+)
1st to 4th February, Wed to Thurs 8pm, Fri 7pm, Sat 6pm, Tickets £18 (£16 concessions)
60 mins/no interval
With their special blend of friendship, awe-inspiring skills and infectious energy, homegrown circus group Silver Lining combine impressive aerial and acrobatic work with memory and nostalgia, in this pacey feel-good spectacular.

London International Mime Festival runs from 9th January to 4th February 2017 across various London venues. See website for further productions, performance times and venue information.

For more ideas on enjoying arts and culture with the kids check out #culturedkids

the Pigeon Pair and Me

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.

Arts Aloud Interview: Holly Hunter on using the arts to champion children’s rights

Three years ago, the Southbank Centre made a bold decision to use the arts to raise awareness of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; a little-known international treaty that sets a benchmark for the treatment of children in our society.

Arts Aloud spoke to Holly Hunter, Participation Producer for the WHY? What’s Happening for the Young festival, on the key issues to be tackled this year and how families can get involved.

AA: What is the background to the festival?
HH: The festival was the brainchild of artistic director Jude Kelly. She felt that although we might have come a long way from a society where children are seen but not heard, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is still relatively unknown, with far too many rules still not being adhered to. The festival therefore provides an opportunity for policy makers, social workers, families, children of all ages and their schools to immerse themselves in what it means to be a child in today’s society and provide a platform for them to be better represented in relation to political and social issues.

What are the key issues being tackled by this year’s programme?
From a political perspective, the fallout from Brexit and what it means for our children is a big focus for this year, and is likely to feature during MP Stella Creasy’s talk and workshop, devised for 15 to 25 year olds who are keen to find out more about politics.

Virgin Territory tackles the over-sexualisation of our children in the media, whilst interactive performance installation Seen and Not Heard addresses the proliferation of selfie culture in our society. Created and performed by 11-16 year olds, it challenges its peers to consider how their personal information is being accessed, used and shared online.

We hope to explore how global issues impact our children such as the refugee crisis and religious radicalisation and we’ll be hosting a day of talks and workshops for professionals who work with children and young people, supporting them to tackle the growing issue of mental health amongst the young. Specialist contributors include punk poet Brigitte Aphrodite, as well as mindfulness expert Dr Tamara Russell and choreographer Jo Rhodes.

The long-term challenge for WHY? What’s Happening for the Young is how we go on to inspire more young change-makers and activists

How involved are children and young people in the actual creation of content?
We’ve hosted a range of ‘think-ins’ to develop this year’s programme, harnessing input from everyone including Year 10 work experience students to our young ambassadors, visiting local schools and of course those who work with children and young people. Alongside work such as Seen and Not Heard and Layla’s Room which have been created through working with young people, other key elements of the programme have been mapped against the UN Convention to ensure all issues and rights are represented. In additional to this, the WHY? Festival Makers, a group of 12 young people aged 15-21, have also curated a unique afternoon of music chosen to celebrate these rights and inspire social change, leading into an evening event featuring performances from BBC Young Musician of the Year Jess Gillam and dance troupe Zoonation.

Outside of the activities for schools and professional forums, how can visiting families get involved?
Families can take part in a range of activities for all ages this weekend, some paid-for and some completely free including creative dance workshops exploring children’s right to freedom of thought and expression; outdoor games which we’re calling ‘The Big Play’ including the creation of a giant human knot and a mass game of ‘it’ as well as a ‘Big Sing’ workshop. We’re also the brilliant Comedy Club for Kids as well as Pram Jam for the very little ones. 

One of the most important outcomes for the festival is for our children to know they have rights, they have a voice…

What does the future hold for the festival and do the outcomes inform other Southbank Centre festivals?
The long-term challenge for WHY? What’s Happening for the Young is how we go on to inspire more young change-makers and activists. The festival is still in its infancy, but I’d like to see content devised to inspire a wider range of age groups, as well as an extended festival with even more opportunities for children or young people to get involved – whether contributing or performing. This year, young people made up 40% of our contributors, last year this was only 30%, so we’ve already seen an improvement. We hope to see all of our young visitors return to enjoy other festivals, particularly those devised with them in mind, such as Imagine or Strive, however, one of the most important outcomes is for our children to know they have rights, they have a voice. We need them to believe that they can make a difference, even on a local level.


WHY? What’s Happening for the Young runs from the 19th to 23rd October at Southbank Centre.
See website for the full programme, opening times and admission prices.