What makes the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival so special?

First staged under canvas in the city’s Inverleith Park back in 1990, the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival [7-15 May 2022] has become an indispensable part of Edinburgh's appeal as a festival city. According to the renowned critic Joyce McMillan stated: “After 20 years as a professional theatre critic in Scotland, I can say honestly that, in my opinion, the country's finest theatre festival is the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival”. So what makes it so special?

Is it the Quality of the Shows?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxefyiV-4QI It might be for children, but the Edinburgh International Children's Festival is never childish. The productions that the Festival presents and supports, provide compellingly told stories designed to challenge and inspire young minds. Each year it showcases high quality, distinctive Scottish and international performances to an audience of children, their teachers, and their families each year.  Many of the productions are non-verbal and therefore accessible to a broad audience. As a result the Festival is now the pre-eminent place in the UK to see the best theatre and dance work for children and young people, becoming a ‘must’ for international programmers seeking the highest standard work for their own countries.  

Or the joy of the Opening Weekend?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1Qg7DDY9gE&t=2s The Edinburgh International Children's Festival opens with the Family Encounters Day, a day of free pop-up performances and artists interventions for families on Saturday 7 May, in the beautiful setting of the National Museum of Scotland. Drop-in activities will include physical performances, walk-about characters, musical explorations, hands-on arts activities and much more. Entrance to the National Museum and the Festival Family Encounters performances and activities is free, with events repeated throughout the day to enable as many people to take part. And for 2022, innovative performances have been commissioned in partnership with Merchant City Festival, National Museum of Scotland and Platform, including a new piece for visually impaired children.

Maybe it's because there's something for the very young?

Children's - Little TopOne of the amazing features of the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival is the way that the programme does not present all young people with the same shows. Instead the festival recognises that children need something different at different ages and so the shows are presented with an age guide, starting with shows for babies. At this year’s festival you can find shows like Little Top which invites babies and their grown-ups to experience spectacular balances, astonishing tumbles and inventive juggling in a specially-designed set that miniaturises the magic of the Big Top; and We Touch, We Play, We Dance a mesmerising, engaging and celebratory dance-show where four dancers weave around the space, inviting babies and children to join them in a warm hearted and playful performance.

While also dealing with serious subjects for older children?

Childrens - Little MurmurThe Edinburgh International Children’s Festival wants more children to experience work that is deeply engaging, innovative and inspiring, believing that all children deserve the opportunity to develop their creativity, emotional intelligence and reach their true potential. As such, the festival often presents and commissions complex theatre pieces about serious subjects. Amongst such shows in 2022 is Little Murmur, an honest, funny and heartfelt journey about the trials and tribulations of living with dyslexia and seeing things differently, combining visual design and technology with dance and humour; and Hermit an original, visual, funny and moving performance about being alone and coming home.

Or could it be, its reputation for creating new work?

Childrens - CommissionsThe Festival has been fortunate over many years to be able to commission new high quality theatre and dance productions, supported in large part by Scottish Government's Festivals Expo Fund. Two new commissions at the 2022 Festival speak of the complex experiences children are dealing with today. I am Tiger tells the heart-breaking, comic and thought-provoking story of a girl who is given a pet tiger by her parents following the death by suicide of her big brother., I Am Tiger is about trying to live with loss, how keeping wild animals at home will quickly increase your shopping bills, and why keeping silent is not always the best solution. The second commission, The Hope River Girls combines explosive choreography, video and text to examine how something as natural as teenage girls coming of age can become wholly un-natural and a subject of fascination and mistrust. 

And showcasing international artists?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TP6Y7sLnmTI The Festival has developed a worldwide reputation as the place to see great work for children from across the globe. This year, despite restrictions imposed by Covid, the programme remains international and includes a regional focus on Flanders, one of the world’s leaders in producing innovative theatre and dance for young audiences. Amongst the shows are - Plock! [Belgium] a visual circus-sound theatre [see trailer above] that appeals to all the senses, with buzzing cans, dancing paint, coloured sounds, and an acrobatic painter; Light [Belgium] a performance in which tiny lights and big spots traverse the stage, with the performers following suit while the audience slowly discovers a world of nuances and light intensity; and Birdboy [Ireland] a kaleidoscopic show including hilarious lip-sync sections, stunning imagery, toe-tapping music and one incredible performer.

Alongside an online programme?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFjAk6RCxjQ&t=8s While live in-person events are now back, there remains an online presence - recalling the work which the festival did during lockdown -  in Being Human, a beautiful programme of four short films, each exploring the nature of what it is to be human, the things that separate us and the connections that bring us all together. All films are available to watch from Monday 9 May (9:00) to Friday 13 May (17:00) and include:

  • Cuckoo by Candoco Dance Company – a new visually striking and playful dance film inspired by a bespoke prosthetic leg
  • Strings by Barrowland Ballet - explores the rich possibilities for connection, bringing together dance artists and young people with complex needs
  • 8 Tender Solitudes by Fevered Sleep – a short dance film made during lockdown, evoking what we lost when we were no longer able to touch
  • The Silent Child by Slick Films – a powerful and poignant film centred around a profoundly deaf four-year-old girl named Libby

And it's ambition to inspire school children?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71jzSdUcXG8&t=105s While the festival is open to children and their families, a core part of the programme is focussed on school chidren and their teachers, Imaginate - the parent company of the festival - runs a year-round Schools Programme which includes in-schools performances as well as artist residencies. Ahead of the festival, schools are provided with information about the themes, the areas of the curriculum which they relate to and other Learning Resources, together with detail of the Travel Subsidy scheme - ensuring that as many school children as possible can be inspired by the amazing shows in their city. Some of the shows are only open to schools, including in 2022 Sound Symphony, a highly interactive, sensory performance made especially for and with Autistic young people. 

So those are just some of the reasons why we think the Edinburgh International Children's Festival is so special. Why don't you check it out for yourself? The Festival runs from 7th to 15th May and you can find full details HERE 

Share this article

Jump to sign up form

Keep Up to Date

Sign up for Festival Updates
Back to top ↑