Preview: Big Imaginations

The children’s theatre in this year’s Big Imaginations Festival is increasingly sophisticated but no less entertaining than last time around

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This half term parents will be spoilt for choice, with over 100 performances of children’s shows on over 30 stages across the North West.

Designed for children aged 0-13 years, this year’s Big Imaginations Festival is on 19 October-5 November across Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside and Yorkshire, in venues ranging from Liverpool’s Royal Philharmonic to libraries and village halls.

The only regional festival of its kind, it last took place in 2013 and was so successful, says Liz O’Neill, artistic director of lead partner Z-arts in Manchester, “that now a lot of people might think that the festival is all we do, whereas the network actually programmes and commissions quality theatre for families all year round.”

O’Neill says this year there’s a focus on bringing performances to communities that “wouldn’t ordinarily have access to children’s theatre or certainly not to this kind of quality and diversity.”

The festival partnered with English radio and television presenter Anita Rani to work on diversity. At the launch event she said: “I grew up in Bradford and early theatre opportunities allowed me to see that a career in the arts is possible for young people like me.

“Big Imaginations and Z-arts are committed to investing in the voice of diverse artists, paving the way for the best work for young people to truly reflect our society and beyond.”

O’Neill says over the past few years there has been a shift in the perception of family shows.

“Family audiences have become more sophisticated, and we’re trying to provide a variety of work that reflects the diversity of modern 21st century family life, to offer children and families the same quality of theatrical experience any adult audience would expect.”

Nine shows will tour several venues across the North West and tackle a range of subjects. Polka Theatre’s Child Of The Divide is a story of friendship, belonging, love and loss that takes place just after the partition of India in newly formed Pakistan, while Tales Of Birbal by Mashi Theatre revitalises traditional fables that have been loved across the Indian sub-continent for generations. Little Angel Theatre mixes puppetry, live music and song in Handa’s Surprise, a story of a little girl in Kenya taking different fruits to a friend but having to get past a few mischievous animals, based on a book used in reception classes for literacy.

Music includes the Big Imaginations Jazz Club, created specifically for the festival, with award-winning clarinetist Arun Ghosh, and Adriano Adewale’s Catapluf’s Musical Journey, where everything from saxophones to saucepans is an instrument.

Local companies include Darren Pritchard’s Body of Light, where high-tech graphics bend around a live dancer, while Ellesmere Port-based Action Transport Theatre revives its fabulous fairy tale with a twist on Happily Ever After, about a prince who isn’t impressed with any of the princesses his mother wants him to marry, until one day a princess arrives accompanied by her brother.

Poet Joseph Coelho’s Fairytales Gone Bad unwind the stories behind the happily-ever-afters, which may not be not as charming as you remember. Grannylocks/The Monstrous Duckling is especially for children aged 3-plus while Zombie-rella/Blood Red Hood is aimed at children aged 6-plus.

With so much to choose from O’Neill says the programme has been designed to help parents decide what is most suitable for their families. “One of things we’ve learned is that families don’t like surprises.”

Big Imaginations runs from 19 October-5 November (

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