55_Luna_1As an annual festival for children and young people, produced by Theatre Hullabaloo, Take Off promises to be “packed to the brim with fantastic shows from the UK and abroad to thrill and inspire the most importance audience of all”, and it certainly didn’t disappoint this year.

This year, we Filskit ladies made our merry way up to Durham for three days of back-to-back shows as enthusiastic delegates, ready to be inspired. For this year’s programme, the theme that underpinned the festival was ‘Playfulness’. Whilst it was a rich, diverse programme, there were a handful of shows that really stood out for us. Here is a brief overview of our favourites:

Mouth Open, Story Jump Out is a BAC Production, conceived and created by the hugely talented spoken word artist Polarbear (a.k.a. Steven Camden). Centred around the craft of storytelling, here was a piece that had everyone, young and old, completely hooked. Through constant interaction with the audience, we watched a story unfold that we as the audience felt that we’d had a hand in creating.

Another BAC commission, Mess, was a fantastic, unexpected piece. With the strapline “We’re putting on a play. It’s about anorexia. But don’t let that put you off”, you’re not quite sure what to expect. ‘Issue based’ theatre can risk being patronising or clumsily-handled, but instead this was a refreshing, humorous and poignant piece of theatre. The fact that it is both written and performed by Caroline Horton, and based on her own past experience with anorexia, makes it even more engaging – and something that schools should insist teenagers go and see.

After these dialogue-heavy performances, we then we had the ‘curve ball’, all the way from Italy. Pop Up (Teatro delle Briciole & I Sacchi di Sabbia) was deliciously eccentric and playful. Driven by two female performers, we saw pop-up books spring to life in a minimalistic and peculiar world of page turning. Unfortunately, at the time, it was a very delegate heavy show, so would be great to see how more children reacted to the piece, particularly as it was aimed at 3-6-year-olds. However, the few children that were present were totally absorbed, whilst the adults were left grinning.

A popular theme from the programme seemed to be around sleep and bedtime. Theatre Hullabaloo and Theatre Iolo’s Luna gave us a dreamy, delightful piece that had the children spellbound, whilst Travelling Light’s Boing really captured the excitement of going to bed on Christmas Eve – good to see a piece that young boys can really relate to. Teatr Baj brought us Sleep, another wordless piece for 0-3 years. Watching the little ones clamber over the large duvet clasping at colourful beanbags and crawling freely across the set was charming as they became the stars of the piece.

With Lyn Gardner’s recent speech on why children’s theatre matters still front of mind, it is great to see a festival that wholeheartedly embraces the importance of carving out a celebration specifically for it. As Gardner so beautifully puts it, “Theatre, particularly theatre for children, fires the imagination, it gives our children the skills and the creativity necessary to face the world, to understand it and perhaps to change it too”.