London’s coolest kids festival kicks off on the South Bank for a fortnite full of dance, drama, arts and crafts, music, magic and mild mayhem. It’s time to fire young imaginations at Imagine Festival at the South Bank Centre.
It’s eminently fitting that Alice in Wonderland, the poster girl for the Curious at Heart, should be the mascot for this year’s festival. The brilliantly imaginative tales by Lewis Caroll are celebrating their 150th anniversary and the party spirit will definitely be descending on the South Bank and its environs, with a veritable wonderland of wild and wacky goings-on.
It’s time to don your prettiest Alice band or grab your finest top hat for a Madhatter’s Tea Party of extravagant proportions. One thing’s for sure: the fun and frivolities of the Imagine Festival will have everyone grinning like a Cheshire cat!
The zones With children at the heart of the festival – the specially commissioned group of schoool children on the Festival Idea Cloud committee has seen to that! – there are theatre performances, workshops, discos for the divas and yoga for meditative souls, as well as a raft of book-related events featuring stars of children’s literature and a host of well-loved stories from classics like Alice in Wonderland to contemporary tomes and daring derring-dos of David O’Doherty’s Dangerology!
Those who can’t tear themselves away can even take part in the Big Sleepover (Feb 20, 8pm, ages 8–11) for a torchlight tour, midnight feast and a night not treading the boards, but sleeping on them! As well as paid-for events, there’s also lots of free stuff and drop-in events. And don’t forget your fancy-dress! Tails, ears, paws and claws are de rigueur on Animal Parade Day (Feb 16, 10am-4pm) while anything Alice will suit Down the Rabbit Hole Dress Up Day (Feb 20, 10am-4pm). Fans of the wild west can pack a ten-gallon stetson (or half-pint size, if preferred) with Cowboy Max (Feb 14-22, times vary).
- Alice in Wonderland With white rabbits, grinning Cheshire cats, cantankerous Queens and a girl whose curiosity always gets the better of her, the classic tale has inspired plenty of Wonderland events, including he specially commissioned immersive theatre experience Alice’s House Of Cards (Feb 14-22, times vary), The Imaginarium of Alice (Feb 20-22, 11am, 1pm, 3pm) which takes you on a fantastical outdoors adventure of dance, music and flying cats. There’s also Flamingo Croquet (Feb 9–22, 10am) Playing Card Portraits (Feb 9-22, 10am) and the Land Of Bread and Butterflies, where your child’s creative imagination can run wild.
- Theatre shows Fans of Lauren Child’s darling sibling duo Charlie and Lola will enjoy the utterly charming puppet show Charlie and Lola’s Best Bestest Play (16-20 Feb, times vary, ages 3+), while The Princess and the Pea (18-19 Feb, 10.45am and 1.15pm, ages 3-7) tells the traditional tale of sleepless nights and green vegetables – but doesn’t count as one of your five-a-day!
- Book stuff Many leading lights of kids’ lit are making personal appearances at the festival, with star turns by Judith Kerr, Lauren Child, Axel Scheffler, Cathy Cassidy and Anthony Horowitz, as well as risque raconteur Russell Brand, hopefully on his best behaviour, reading from his new book The Pied Piper of Hamlin (Feb 20, 2pm). Parents will no doubt find nostalgic charm in the Early Years Vintage Library (Feb 9–22, 10am) and if you want to refresh your child’s library – and wardrobe – bring books and clothes along to Swap-a-Shop (Feb 14, 12–4pm). Finally, fans of the classic Guess How Much I Love You?, celebrating its 20th anniversary, should hop along to the Queen Elizabeth Hall to say hello to Big Nutbrown Hare and Little NutBrown Hare, who will be in situ in the form of a six-foot model. (The South Bank Centre seems to have a something of a soft spot for giant rabbits!)
- Dance Babies and toddlers can get in the groove at Move and Shake creative dance shindig (16-20 Feb, 10.30am) and daddies can strut their stuff at the Big Fish Little Fish Family Rave disco extravaganza (22 Feb, 2–4pm), both in the glitzy Clore Ballroom. For a quirky take on musical chairs, pull up a pew for the contemporary dance performance of Quartet for 15 Chairs (Feb 14–15, times vary). There’s also plenty of jigging going down at Folk Dance Remixed (Feb 17, 11am-4pm) and Kid’s Carpet Rock Show (Feb 20, 1-2.30pm).
- Music Whether you want to listen or learn to play, maestros will be creating a cacophony of melodic tunes, from hip-hop and house to hand-made instruments. All ages and levels of musicianship are invited to join the Giant Orchestra: Zero at the Bone (Feb 15, 10.15am–12pm) for a performance and novices are welcome. Make your own instruments at Have A Go Strings with In Harmony Lambeth (Feb 15, 10.30–11.45am) and Have a Go Wind and Brass (Feb 15, 1-3pm). Meanwhile, Brundibar (Feb 13, 11am, 1.30pm; Feb 14, 11am) is a dynamic folk opera starring 40 schoolchildren, with shades of Oliver.
- Arts and craft Make-your-own headgear or disguise in Mad Hatters and Masks Workshops (Feb 17, 10am–4pm) or Design Your Own Princess (Feb 18-19, 12 noon, 3.15pm). Comic book fans can conjure up action and adventures at The Phoenix Comic Book Take Over (Feb 19, 11.30-3.30pm).
- A SNEAKY PEEK FOR IMAGINE 2016 Details of next year’s 15th anniversary Imagine Festival are yet to come, but we can reveal it’s going to end on a high with FUNharmonics Telling Tales: A Roald Dahl Celebration at the Royal Festival Hall (Sat 20 Feb 2016). Marking the centenary of the birth of (arguably) the world’s best-loved children’s author Roald Dahl, the London Philharmonic Orchestra presents a gloriumptious musical celebration – not to be missed!
Dining tables There are plenty of eateries along the Festival Terrace, including Le Pain Quotidien, and beneath the Royal Festival Hall, including the eminently family-friendly Giraffe. For a pizza fix, head to Pizza Express on Belvedere Road (just behind the Royal Festival Hall), or for a taste of gallic gastronomy, try Brasserie Blanc next door.
Top tip Add a little more fairy-tale magic to your day with a performance of Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales at The Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, a few minutes walk along the South Bank: the hugs and kiss of the iconic Oxo Tower marks the spot! The season has been extended till April 11.