Slicker and sillier, Adventures in Wonderland is still a sweet treat

When award-winning children’s theatre company Les Petits first brought their immersive adaptation of Alice in Wonderland to The Vaults, we were left grinning from ear to ear. However, since being frightened half to death by Rob Watt’s Goosebumps at the same venue, I was struggling to persuade my daughter back to this style of theatre, even with the promise of exploring Wonderland all over again.

As we approached the gloomy tunnels under Waterloo Station, I could see that she was apprehensive. This was being compounded by the dingy entrance adorned with skull and crossbones, and there were no words of reassurance from her accompanying friend, who had never experienced this kind of theatre before. I feared that I was going to have my hands full. I was glad I’d drafted in reinforcements (aka her Dad).

The layout of the main foyer, the cloakroom, the box office and the bar, appeared much slicker than before. There were plenty of loos and the popular flamingo croquet was already in action. We were even divided into our groups before we stood in line for our performance. Regardless of things ticking along like a well-wound pocket watch, the kids were still full of impatient excitement as we huddled together with around 20 others, waiting for our call to enter.

Two years on and we were back in Lewis Carroll’s dusty study, packed with curious things in jars and eery moving pictures. With a flicker of the lights, a slightly kookier looking Alice appeared, still stuck behind the mirror and still lost in Wonderland, but this time intent on playing tricks on the Queen of Hearts by stealing her beloved jam tarts! At least, that’s what I think the new twist was. The rattle of the trains above and some neighbouring building work rendered her inaudible for a key moment in the briefing.

Elbows were soon out, as excited adults then tried to keep pace with eager youngsters, as we squeezed through the dark and narrow passageways, crowding into the space which would transport us down the rabbit hole. Once again we were greeted by the White Rabbit, with the chance to grow or shrink determining our group’s path to find her.

On the surface, so much about this return production is the same as the original. The fast paced narrative, the sumptuous costumes, the elaborate set and the spectacular staging, even the majority of the characters that we encounter rang more than a few bells. There is, however, this time around, a much greater injection of silliness, and a more infectious humour which brings light to the imposing tunnels and is highly reminiscent of other Les Petits productions (such as Captain Flynn), that we have come to know and love.

We enjoyed the new clowning between Tweedledum and Tweedledee, distracting young visitors from their scarily big heads set down on the floor. The new Queen of Hearts (played by Adam Collier) was also much less intimidating, and more like a cheeky pantomime dame (in a good way), with pencilled-on lips and an outlandish costume, leading to playful interaction with some dads. She even had one of my young companions feeling sorry for her loss of tarts.

The new set of mushrooms might have seemed right at home in the damp, but I can’t say that the addition of the caterpillar quite captured the trippyness i’ve come to associate with him, but at least the addition of the Unbirthday Song at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party created something of a finale to what previously felt like an abrupt end to our jolly jaunt.

If you missed Adventures in Wonderland the first time around, please don’t make that mistake again. With so few theatre companies investing this level of production into children’s performances, it will do you all the world of good to set yourselves free from the comfy chairs and stop experiencing theatre at arm’s length. It’s expensive, yes, cost prohibitive for some, and it might mean having to deal with the unpredictable and the unexpected, but don’t we all do that as parents and carers anyway?

Intent on demonstrating their satisfaction, I handed my traditional star rating over to my guests, with scores of 2 million 600 and 1068 out of 10, coming through, respectively. Why was it such a resounding success? Well, aside from being described as “the best thing I’ve seen“, it was more importantly “a million times better than Goosebumps” and in comparison described as  “happy exciting”. Phew, I thought to myself, thank goodness for that. Our love affair with interactive theatre is free to continue. I think i’ve got her back.

Adventures in Wonderland is at The Vaults until 3rd September.
Admission £26.50 Adults, £15.50 Children, Family Ticket £71.00.
Check Kidsweek listings from 13th June for Kids go Free offers.
Recommended age 5-10 years.
Strictly no buggies and no babes in arms.
See website for performance dates and times.

Read my original review of Adventures in Wonderland, and my recent interview with Les Petits Artistic Director, Oliver Lansley.

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

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

Best of Free Edinburgh Fringe for Families

So if you remember back to January, it was my new year’s resolution to go back to Edinburgh Fringe once again this year, except this time (and for the first time ever) do it with the kids in tow.

Me being me, my spreadsheet was out as soon as their brilliant new programme was released online – long before my beloved guide plopped through my letter box. I wasn’t sure what to expect planning a visit with the family. But to my surprise, not only is the programme plentiful, but it goes way beyond simply regurgitating well-loved children’s books to the stage. And what’s more, so much of it is as free as a bird!

Prepare to be amazed! Here’s my pick of free Edinburgh Fringe for families:


Cabaret and Live Music

Dr Frankenstein’s Spooky Disco
Join Dr Frankenstein and friends for a fun-packed hour of dancing and spooking goings-on in this renowned gothic venue. Be warned; the spooky organ music, thunder and lightning effects might prove too scary for some (adults).

Venue 304, Frankenstein Pub, 26 George IV Bridge, EH1 1EN
August 15-29, 12pm for 1hr
Suitable for 2-12


Free Fringe Music
Tempt them in with the promise of the natural history galleries and this celebration of traditional Celtic music and dance from Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales will hopefully make them want to stay! See website for details of each of the free daily performances in this magnificent space.

Venue 179, National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, EH1 1JF
August 6-28, 2pm for 40 mins

Suitable for all ages


Magic and Clowning

Bubble Show with Milkshake and Dr Bubble
A brilliant alternative to spending £9 on The Amazing Bubble Man at Udderbelly, this Australian-Romanian duo have every bubble trick imaginable. There’s big, small and sculpted bubbles, the bubble carousel, the square bubble, smoke bubbles, caterpillar bubbles, tightrope bubbles and bubbles in bubbles. Plus with a bit of magic, you might even get your baby in a bubble!

Venue 272, Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters, 139 Cowgate, EH1 1JS
August 3-28, 1.15pm for 1hr

Suitable for children age 3-14


Science Magic
Big tick mum and dad, this one’s as good as them doing their homework! Multi award-winning comedian and scientist Dónal Vaughan shows you the secrets of some of his amazing science tricks using everyday items and (if you’re lucky) you can join in too!

Venue 272, Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters, 139 Cowgate, EH1 1JS
August 4-28, 11am for 1hr

Suitable for children age 6+


Theatre

Van Gogh Find Yourself
One of the few free theatrical performances on offer, Walter de Forest’s one-man show is based on the letters of Vincent and Theo and the memoirs of Vincent’s stay in Auvers-sur-Oise. Get closer to the real struggles of Vincent Van Gogh through this interactive performance, which promises every visitor a portrait! You’ll be grinning from ear to…er…

Venue 415, 
Natural Food Kafe 55 Clerk Street, EH8 9JQ
August 6-9, 11-16, 18-23, 25-27, 2.25pm for 55 mins
Suitable for all ages


Comedy

Andrew Roper: Superheroes for Kids
Proving just about anything can be adapted for a children’s audience, this show started life as a geek-tastic sci-fi stand-up for grown ups that were keen to fill in any knowledge gaps around their favourite comic book heroes. Now it’s the kids’ turn for some superhero fun. Dads: wear your pants on the outside of your trousers, kids: bring your capes and get involved.

Venue 272, Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters, 139 Cowgate, EH1 1JS
August 3-28, 1.30pm for 45 mins

Suitable for children age 5-10


David Green: Celebrity Love Letters
You might have to spend the majority of the show explaining who most of the subjects are (unless perhaps Taylor Swift creeps in there) but they are sure to enjoy the tempo of the love songs, poems and letters. David Green’s first solo outing at the Edinburgh Fringe deconstructs the cult of celebrity – from 90s kids TV presenters to Edwina Currie. It should prove the perfect family giggle.

Venue 239, The Street, 2b Picardy Place, EH1 3JT
August 7-14, 17-27, 2.45pm for 50 mins

Suitable for all ages


Improv & Spoken Word

Bump
Back in January, I highlighted the woeful lack of family content as part of the London International Mime Festival and Edinburgh is no exception. One consolation is that at least what’s on offer is under the banner of ‘Pay What You Feel’. Written and performed by Claire Cogan with original music by Jonathan Todd, Bump should inspire little ones into thinking about befriending those noises in the night that give you a fright. More sleep all round zzzzz.

Venue 40, Quaker Meeting House, 7 Victoria Terrace, EH1 2JL
August 9-13, 1.15pm for 25 mins

Suitable for children age 3-8


The Harry and Chris Show
Having been performing together since their school days, Harry’s Baker’s award-winning words combine with Chris Read’s jazz/pop/funk musical stylings to deliver a show rich in wordplay and songs from their debut EP ‘Whaddyawannado’.

Venue 100, Pilgrim, 3 Robertsons Close, EH1 1LY
August 6-16, 18-27, 1.45pm for 1 hr
Suitable for all ages


Storytelling

The Listen Inn
Award-winning writer and performer Vickie Holden presents three of her favourite stories in 45 minutes storytelling sessions that are packed with fun, music, poetry, lots of laughs and a whole host of characters. A great chance for big and little ones to relax and grab some collective downtime.

Venue 415, Natural Food Kafe 55 Clerk Street, EH8 9JQ
August 6-27, 11.45am for 45 mins
Suitable for children age 0-11


Exhibitions galore!

Far too many to list here and outside of what is going on in the side shows, Edinburgh will be packed to the rafters with free exhibitions across a plethora of venues including mesmerising suspensions by major artists such as Damián Ortega, as well as interesting murals and craft shows.


Are you visiting Edinburgh Fringe with your family?
Tweet me your best picks @pippye and maybe we could tweet up!

Still to come in May for art-loving families…

May is awash with family-friendly arts festivals; from Udderbelly and London Wonderground, to Brighton Fringe and Dulwich Festival. There’s even another instalment of street art in my local manor of Brockley. Beyond all that’s on offer, however, I bet you had’t even realised that 3 big-hitting treats for art-loving families are due to land before May is out:

1. Brand new Yayoi Kusama at Victoria Miro
The idea for Arts Aloud was born in Kusama’s Obliteration Room at Tate Modern in 2012, meaning this lady’s work will forever hold a very special place in my heart. Promising new paintings with multiplying dots, new infinity mirror rooms and even new pumpkin sculptures, this summer showcase is set to be the artist’s most extensive exhibition at this venue.
Yayoi Kusama at Victoria Miro, 25th May to 30th July
16 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW and 14 St George Street, London W1S 1FE
Admission £TBC

2. The arrival of Goosebumps Kids
Last month Goosebumps Alive arrived at The Vaults in Waterloo, bringing with it live burials, ghost stories and monsters galore. Having been granted permission to create this immersive theatrical world from the book series by R.L Stine, it made sense for the organisers to produce a watered down version in order to scare our kids (and their parents) half witless. The show is designed to be much more lighthearted fun, but is still pitched at 5-11 year olds, requires parental supervision and will not be admitting any younger siblings. It might be an idea to take more than one spare pair of pants 😎
Goosebumps Kids at The Vaults, 15th May to 5th June
Launcelot Street, SE1 7AD
Admission £15 for both children and adults

3. Elytra Filament Pavilion launches V&A’s Engineering Season
Slightly stealing the Serpentine Pavilion’s thunder this summer, is a newly commissioned garden installation by experimental architect Achim Menges, working with Moritz Dörstelmann, structural engineer Jan Knippers and climate engineer Thomas Auer. The Elytra Filament Pavilion marks the start of the first ever Engineering Season at the V&A and will explore the impact of robotic technology on architectural design and engineering. The result should represent a canopy-like structure for visitors to walk beneath and is expected to grow and change according to the patterns of behaviour picked up in the garden by its real-time sensors (so ensure the kids are on their best). There will also be some rare opportunities to witness live construction.
Elytra Filament Pavilion at the V&A, 18th May to 6th November
John Madejski Garden, V&A, Cromwell Rd, London SW7 2RL
Admission Free