The Fringe programme has a dedicated children’s section with a wealth of high quality, family-friendly shows. But what about parents who don’t want to compromise on their own Fringe experience in order to keep their children satisfied?
In recent years, the Fringe programme has included a ratings system to help determine which shows are suitable for children to attend. Presumably, this will limit the instances of mortified comedians faced with families in the front row. But it also makes it easier to select shows which will appeal to the widest possible audience.
One master of this genre is Jeff Achtem, the man behind the award-winning Sticks, Stones, Broken Bones, Swamp Juice and new show, Slapdash Galaxy. With only two Edinburgh Fringes behind him, he has already developed a reputation for innovative and unique theatre. His highly visual style of puppetry succeeds in bringing out the same sense of wonder in adults as it does in children. ‘I just want to create shows that have a wide appeal’, says Achtem when asked if he targets a particular audience. He acknowledges that there is a perception that puppetry is aimed at children, but claims, ‘I’ve learned to trust an audience. They’ll come find you, young and old’. One look around the venue confirms this; adults jostle for places with children and all are equally wide-eyed and rapt.
Little Cauliflower made their Fringe debut in 2011, and this year have returned with two new shows, Night of the Big Wind and The Machine. Like their earlier show, Street Dreams, Big Wind appears in the Theatre category of the Fringe programme, whilst The Machine is billed as a children’s show. So how do they distinguish? Puppeteer Lucy Western says the key lies in the treatment of the story. ‘Adult theatre needs a greater element of sophisticated humour that is slightly more multidimensional than children’s theatre, but that importantly doesn’t isolate a younger audience’. Like Achtem, Little Cauliflower aim for broad appeal with all their productions: ‘We always make theatre that is for all ages; the fun lies in mixing the serious and the silly’.
Thankfully, the Fringe seems to be attracting an increasing number of shows in this genre. Physical theatre is, of course, a natural choice for all ages. Adults who have not visited a circus since childhood are likely to find that this form of entertainment has become a great deal more sophisticated. And with the likes of Little Cauliflower, Bunk Puppets and Scamp Theatre, puppetry is experiencing a welcome rebirth. And comedians like Dr Brown have now begun to create shows without the adult content suitable for family audiences.
It’s still worth exercising a note of caution as a “U” rating may not mean a show is going to appeal to children, but it seems the world’s largest arts festival is becoming more and more of a family affair.
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