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Festival of imagination is treat for young minds

A True Tall Tale

MANxMOUSE: A madcap mix of puppetry and performance.
MANxMOUSE: A madcap mix of puppetry and performance.

A True Tall Tale

Southside Community Centre, Edinburgh

FIVE STARS

Manxmouse

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

FIVE STARS

Up To Speed

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

FOUR STARS

Tetris

North Edinburgh Arts Centre

FOUR STARS

Saltbush

Festival Theatre Studio

THREE STARS

Once upon a time there was no Imaginate. No eight days packed with drama, dance, play time and fun for youngsters of all ages. It doesn't bear thinking about. Imaginate does other things all year round, of course: supporting artists, working with schools, community outreach - but for now, let's just look back at the festival that ended yesterday and where home-grown and international work for young people shrugged aside the conventions of mainstream theatre in venues across Edinburgh.

How amazing was it, for instance, to snuggle down in a gently rocking hammock, watch a canvas roof fill with traceries of leaves or a scatter of stars while Bodil Alling's rich, deep voice drew us into A True Tall Tale. Her narrative evokes the legend of the Christmas Rose. We never catch a concrete glimpse of the Robber Mother, the Old Monk or his Young Apprentice, but they're in the dark with us, as is the wisp of wood-smoke or incense that locates this mystical tale of courage, trust and redemption in chapel or in forest. From the carved pew-ends that suspend our hammocks, to the "magic lantern" technology that floats the imagery overhead, the fabric of this Danish production for 8+ audiences - presented by Teatret Gruppe 38 and Carte Blanche - is a tapestry of nuanced, crafted details. It's one to remember and cherish.

As is Manxmouse, an adorable blend of puppetry, performance and resourceful cunning that whisks everyday objects - a lunch-box, a bin lid, rolls of brown paper - into play as the tail-less little critter squares up to meeting his Doom at the jaws of the Manx Cat. Really, you have to see this Theatergroep Kwatta (Netherlands) show for the 6+ age group to appreciate not just the wit and invention of the staging, but also the integrity of purpose that binds the mischief, mayhem and role-playing of the all-male cast into the core themes of Paul Gallico's story. All those life lessons about being different - who to trust, how to be yourself - shine out from the make-believe that sees a dull store-room set become a springboard for the best kind of absorbing story-telling.

Up To Speed comes at issues of not fitting in from another angle, one the 8+ audience will probably recognise from their own classrooms. Jade (Rosalind Sydney) seems very self-assured, but when odd-ball Barnaby (Laurie Brown in full-on geeky mode) unwittingly makes her feel small, she hits back, and convinces him that the sci-fi in Doctor Who is a reality.

We learn all this via a clever device: Jade "rewinds" and replays events as if the past was a video we can watch, but not edit. As a team, the Scottish duo - who created and perform this piece - are a gift to the kind of comedy that can twist, in the shift of an facial expression, into something full of inner pain and loss. It's a tremendous first endeavour: a few tweaks in the opening scenes and it will be a stunner.

Tetris saw the dancers of Arch 8 (Netherlands) - and then the audience - come together like a puzzle, bodies interlocking to become a 3D jigsaw. But like everything we've seen from this well-sussed, talented company, there's a message in the movement. And here, as the four dancers tied their bodies into mutual knots of support and trust - or became living-twisting-clicking Rubik's cubes controlled by willing little hands - the unspoken clues flagged up ways to be part of a bigger social picture as well as doing your own thing, albeit probably not with such acrobatic finesse as Arch8 who have the wow factor in their DNA.

With Saltbush - an Italian/Australian co-production by Children's Cheering Carpet - the joining-in element meant the younger (4 to 8 years) members of the audience could set foot on the changing patterns of the floor-cloth and chase the shifting shapes. Huge fun, and much enjoyed by hordes of jumping, skipping tinies. But while the music, movement and occasional spoken text connected those shapes into the landscape, beliefs and art of Australia's Aboriginal peoples, there were few clues to join up the dots and make the experience more than an interactive game.

That was Imaginate at 25. Here's to their future, and the treats in store in 2015.

www.imaginate.org.uk

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