Dreams do come true

This magical experience for children, open in time for the Easter holidays, is somewhere between walking through a picture book and a dream

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The first time the illustrator David Litchfield walked through one of his own drawings was a “mind-blowing” experience.

“Having my illustrations spring into reality and become something that I can actually walk into, and experience in a 3D space was an incredible moment in my life,” he says.

Best known for his award-winning The Bear and the Piano book series, Litchfield has also exhibited across the globe, but this is his first time stepping into his own story. He’s paired up with author Ross Montgomery to create Fairy Tales, an interactive exhibition and storytelling experience for children, which has opened in time for the Easter holidays in Manchester.

Children start their journey through this magical small world by voting on which fairy tale they want to hear and a storyteller performs it in the Three Bears B&B. Then they are given a mission – to find escapee gingerbread men or golden eggs within a magical town that features everything from a miniature caravan to a newsroom, a kitchen, dressing-up area and post office.

“It wasn’t a great deal different to how I draw books, in that I would scribble in my sketchbook trying to get the right look and feel for a design before finalising a character or setting into artwork,” says Litchfield on designing the set. “The difference was that after I had finished with my drawings, they would go off to these amazing 3D designers – who are all incredible and are practically magicians – who would then turn my drawings into actual objects that we can walk around and interact with. It was an amazing experience to see my drawings come to life in this way.”

David Litchfield, Fairy Tales at Z-Arts
From the imagination of picture book illustrator David Litchfield, Fairy Tales at Z-Arts is a dream-like place for children. Photos: Lizzie Henshaw

The exhibition features many traditional fairy tale characters, with each of its nine sets dedicated to a different well-loved story, including Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little Red Riding Hood.

“From my point of view, it was a really interesting task to take these very familiar characters and tales and look at them from a different direction,” says Litchfield, adding that the troll under the miniature bridge is his favourite.

“Some mornings I feel that I have a lot in common with that grumpy troll. When I drew him, I was a bit worried about how kids would react to seeing him as he’s a bit scary. But, thankfully, all the kids seem to like him. I’ve seen some great versions of the troll that children have drawn. They generally looked a lot happier than mine.”

The exhibition, which is recommended for children eight and under, visits Manchester following a sell-out run at London’s Discover Children’s Story Centre. Children are free to explore in the safe, self-contained play area for 50 minutes, which passes in a haze of disco-ing at the palace, dining at Hansel and Gretel’s café, building on the Three Little Pigs construction site and more.

“I would love visitors to have a new sense of appreciation and wonder for these stories that we all now know so well,” Litchfield says. “It was a really interesting task to take these very familiar characters and tales and look at them from a different direction. Hopefully that’s what the audience will feel too. They are still the fairy tales that we love but with a twist.”

Fairy Tales is at Z-Arts, Hulme, Manchester, until February 2023 (z-arts.org)

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