It’s officially the age of the festival: a time for high spirits and frivolity, flower garlands in your hair, and bubbles blowing in the air. Most (but the most hard-core) festivals have elements that are designed for children – but sometimes it can be a touch tokenistic. Which is why the Imagine Children’s Festival (Southbank Centre) is a gold standard!
Putting youngsters at the very heart of the action, this brilliantly imaginative festival creates all activities and events solely for a young audience. This year’s theme, “by children, for children”, has eager boys and girls taking on various hands-on roles, from directing audiences to their seats and selling programmes to assisting light technicians backstage: don’t be surprised to hear a youthful voice booming over the tannoy to advise you to take your seats promptly.
So what exactly happens when you put children in charge? Well, a clutch of local school children were signed up for the charmingly named “Festival Idea Cloud” to act as brand champions for the ingenuity and creativity that is at the heart of this two-week extravaganza. Their mission? To let imaginations fly: when it came to creative thinking, the sky’s the limit!
During the Imagine Children’s Festival, Southbank Centre will be buzzing with over 100 exciting events – from literature to jazz, theatre to poetry, visual arts to classical music – with a packed daily programme of free fun and frivolity, all perfectly pitched to cover all ages from toddlers to tweens and teens
Much of the action is planned to coincide with the UK’s February half-term. As the festival – now in its 13th year – started out as a book festival, many of the events celebrate well-loved children’s books and popular authors, including in 2014 the Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, Quentin Blake, Michael Rosen, Lauren Child and Cressida Cowell. There are storytelling sessions and workshops where wannabe wordsmiths can pick up tricks-of-the-trade for creative writing, illustration and creating their own comic book.
Highlights for the forthcoming week include cosying up with ‘Grandpa Joe’s Giant Storytelling Bed’ (a free event, various times, daily from Saturday February 15th to Sunday 23rd, Foyer Spaces) with inventive tales inspired by Roald Dahl’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory – which is celebrating its half-centenary this year.
There are adventurous escapades along the Southbank with National Geographic explorer Daniel Raven-Ellison who will be on the look-out for wildlife (£4 per child, various times, Sunday February 23rd, Foyer Spaces). Perhaps he’ll encounter a Grizzly on his way home from the National Youth Orchestra’s interactive rendition of We’re Going On A Bear Hunt…
Hecklers and wise-guys are welcome at the Comedy 4 Kids stand-up show by James Campbell (£5 per child, £10 per adult, 2pm, Friday February 21st, Queen Elizabeth Hall), while pop-pickers might like to join McFly’s Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter as they talk about their best-selling adventure book at The Dinosaur That Pooped A Planet promising plenty of poop, puns and pandemonium (3pm, Monday February 17th, Queen Elizabeth Hall). There is more prehistoric playfulness (with some piracy thrown in for good measure) with Captain Flinn and the Dinosaur Pirates (10.30am and 12.30pm daily, Monday February 17th to Wednesday February 19th, Queen Elizabeth Hall).
Of course a bit of fancy dress-ups is a pre-requisite of any festival worth its salt, and there are three dress-up days: Saturday 15th is Topsy-Turvy Day, where anything goes, the more outlandish the better (think trousers on head, gloves on your feet); Wednesday 19th is Call Of The World with a wildlife and nature theme; and Saturday 22nd has been designated time travel fantasy, so come as a cowboy, spaceman, pirate, sailor or… erm, even a wasp.
Bookworms of all ages can also stop off at the free Vintage Reading Library (Level 2 Foyer at Royal Festival Hall, 10.30am – 4pm) with birthday celebrations for classic picture books The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Elmer (35 and 25 years respectively), a book and clothes swap shop (Saturday, February 15th, 11am, Foyer Spaces), and a Secret Garden to uncover (£6, various times, Friday February 21st to Sunday 23rd, Foyer Spaces), or join in the London Children’s Bookswap on Saturday, February 15th 2014.
Although most events are bookable in advance (it’s highly recommended to book online beforehand), many popular events – like the first ever sleepover on the stage of the Royal Festival Hall – are sold out, but you’ll still find plenty to do if you just turn up and see what takes your fancy. The Festival Idea Cloud has insisted on a feast of spontaneous and impromptu performances and artistic displays popping up across the site every day to inspire and entertain so you’ll still get to enjoy the festival’s fun and frolics even if your preferred event is fully booked.