Edinburgh festival for kids

Sarah Crompton, The Telegraph August 22nd, 2007

once at the Comedy Club 4 Kids, helpless laughter replaced grumpiness... The jokes were really funny and not at all patronising.

‘Walk? What do you mean ‘walk’?” The expression on the children’s faces was horrified.

Two hours into our first family excursion to the Edinburgh Festival and we had hit a major problem. For an adult, part of the pleasure is exploring as you rush from venue to venue. For a child, walking is always akin to punishment.

Only the prospect of banned soft drinks averted a sit-down protest, but, once at the Comedy Club 4 Kids, helpless laughter replaced grumpiness.

This mixed bill of stand-up, hosted by a genial Australian called Mickey D, was the perfect place to start festival-going.

The jokes – from Mickey, Stuart Goldsmith, Howard Reed and an amazingly assured 11-year-old Ross Crawford – were really funny and not at all patronising.

The children particularly liked Goldsmith’s routine about swearing in sign language – a new skill they have put to good use ever since.

That’s the trouble with bringing children to arts festivals; it widens their horizons.

Problem number two was the arrival of the rain. Plans for artistic walks were washed away. But we staggered into the Assembly Rooms to see Reed again.

Little Howard and the Magic Pencil of Life and Death, which features “the world’s first six-year-old, interactive stand-up comedian”, was another huge hit, clever, silly and just the right side of rude.

My seven-year-old son, Teodoro, particularly loved the way Reed’s cartoon sidekick was jealous of his new baby, whom he scorns in a song called Let’s Sell Sampson.

So the children now tramp around chanting: “Let’s sell Mummy.” Another skill learnt.

It was in Reed’s show that I encountered child hecklers for the first time. One little boy shouted “bum” a lot, to considerable comic effect. Other interruptions were simply rude.

But heckling is part of joining in, and kids are fantastically enthusiastic. My normal strategy when faced with a room and a stand-up comedian is to head for the back.

The children make a beeline for the front, a position they were particularly pleased to adopt at the Assembly Rooms for Men of Steel, a show that actually warns (oh, joy of joys) that it will be messy.

Their only complaint was that it wasn’t quite messy enough, while I wondered why three attractive Antipodeans would wake up in the morning and think it was a good idea to tell a story with kitchen utensils and food.

Though I did like the popcorn volcano. And the lettuce dinosaur.

The children’s front-row policy also paid off with One-Man Star Wars Trilogy at the UdderBelly, wherein Charles Ross enacts the entire story with manic brilliance, though you have to know the films pretty well to get it.

For Potted Potter, at the Pleasance, you need to have read the books.

Or at least the first six. My 10-year-old son Augusto’s anxiety that they would give away the plot of book seven (they didn’t) spoilt his enjoyment of a fabulously funny parody, which bolts the modern obsession with Potter on to an old-fashioned variety turn with serious Jeff taking the Ernie Wise role and silly Dan as a latterday Eric Morecambe.

They have been attracting crowds of more than 200 every day – which goes to show how many children there actually are at the Edinburgh Festival.

They are pretty well served in all spheres of artistic activity, and we found we couldn’t squash everything we wanted to see into our three days. This is partly because so many of the shows are concentrated in morning slots and you end up faced with horrible cultural choices.

The Book Festival helps out with children’s programming through until the early evening, but, when night falls, children are meant to go to bed.

Ours just wanted to carry on, so we pushed out to the extremities of family viewing and headed for Fuerzabruta, an Argentinian physical theatre extravaganza, down in a big black tent in Leith.

The children were wary at first, alarmed by the noise and the space. But, by the end, they were entranced by the extraordinary images of modern mermaids swimming above their heads, men running through walls, and water falling while they danced.

Being adventurous paid off.

But that brings me to the fourth problem with bringing children to Edinburgh: the cost. Fuerzabruta is the most expensive show on the Fringe, costing £25 for a full-price ticket with concessions around £17.50.

Kids’ shows proper come in far cheaper, at around £8 for adults and £7 or less for children, and there are lots of deals, but it still adds up.

Fortunately, you don’t have to pay for everything in Edinburgh. A walk down the Fringe showcases on the Royal Mile enabled the children to learn more swear words from a clown on a unicycle, and to hear opera sung (rather well) by girls in corsets.

A trip to the Andy Warhol exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland was less of a success than the workshop – the Factory – beneath it, where children stencil, draw and screen test themselves. It is entirely free, as is a walk up Arthur’s Seat, which we did when the sun finally appeared. “I like it here,” said Augusto.

And so do I. What I really like is that my children suddenly understand why I love theatre. They have hardly switched on their Game Boys. Though they are addicted to bungee jumping in the Princes Street Gardens. Another skill learned.


Comedy Club 4 Kids
The Bongo Club (0131 557 2827), until Mon

Little Howard and the Magic Pencil of Life and Death
Assembly @ George Street (0131 623 3030), until Mon

Men of Steel
Assembly @ George Street (0131 623 3030), until Mon

One-Man Star Wars Trilogy
UdderBelly’s Pasture (0870 745 3083), until Mon

Potted Potter: The Unauthorised Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff
Pleasance Courtyard (0131 556 6550), until Mon

Edinburgh International Book Festival
Charlotte Square Gardens (0845 373 5888). Information: www.edbookfest.co.uk/families

The Black Tent, Ocean Terminal, Leith (0870 169 0100), until Sept 1

Andy Warhol
National Gallery Complex, The Mound (0131 624 6200), until Oct 7

Arthur’s Seat
Holyrood Park. Routes and info: www.geo.ed.ac.uk/arthurseat/; www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/holyrood-park.pdf

Bungee jumping
West Princes Street Gardens ten top things for kids to do in edinburgh

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