Just So Festival 2017

Review written by Simone Green

What are your favourite childhood memories?  I was lucky enough to grow up in the countryside, and mine is disappearing for hours with friends to play in the park. It’s a safe bet that a fair few of your most fond recollections were outdoors too. Risk, independence and freedom are a rare commodity for some children but all these were found and much more besides at Just So arts and music festival last weekend. We went back to basics, to the essence of simple music and theatrical themes, and there was a fantastic variety of theatre this year which didn’t disappoint.

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Photo: Andrew Allcock

Within the Spellbound Forest, Just So regulars Horse and Bamboo Theatre were back with Theatre for One and a whole new batch of creativity. Performing artists had devised and handmade their own unique pieces of theatre for intimate and beautiful solo shows of less than five minutes. Through headphones and perched on a stool inches from the action, we were whisked away. In ‘Ear Today, Gone Tomorrow’ the hearing aid cleaned my headphones (with all the gory sound effects) before I peered into a huge ear: accompanied by echoing drips, a tiny puppet was manipulated to play a drum solo with cotton buds – brilliantly surreal. Each piece of theatre was so clever, and utter escapism. Children stepped away, blinking themselves back into reality. My daughter loved sticking her head into a lion’s mouth only to see the puppet of a poor, gobbled up old woman shouting “save yourselves!”. Horse and Bamboo’s offerings were all-enveloping theatre at its best – both children and adults were mesmerized.

Out in the Observatory it was time for a journey beyond sight and sound. In Unlimited Theatre’s How I Hacked My Way Into Space, John Spooner is the orange-suited spaceman on a mission to Mars when he accidentally sets up his own space agency. The show is a brilliantly funny, real life tale of one man’s quest to achieve the seemingly impossible and hack his way into space. An entertaining piece which captivated both children and adults: How I Hacked My Way Into Space was a Dave Gorman-esque quest, for small people.

Seed by Pif Paf was a real highlight for my daughter and was a big hit with the young audience. It follows one man’s quest to grow a tree from the last remaining acorn (with killer slugs and inflatable fun thrown in); he watches, frustrated, from his ramshackle trailer as he desperately hopes for growth and prays for rain. Across the Village Green and back to the Observatory was a mimed piece with musical accompaniment set on a trampoline. Anyday: Max Calaf Seve brings us Max who lives with his whole life suspended on this bouncy abode with only his pet bird for company. As he sets off on an adventure, we follow the pair and their amazing trampolining skills and trickery which wowed the crowd.

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Photo: Andrew Allcock

There were also plenty of promenade shows throughout the weekend too, such as The Hurly Burly, a mobile sound structure, and Dizzy O’Dare’s Baba Yaga’s House which enthralled the little ones with wicked humour inspired by Slavic fairy tales.

The Fabularium also returned to their woodland clearing with The Tales of Animalia. We loved ‘Cautionary Tales’ brought to the festival by this talented bunch of mechanicals. The glorious coppice is a fitting set in the beautiful Rode Hall Estate in Cheshire. With the forest floor as the stalls, there were beautiful vocals and folk tales of lessons learned – we especially loved Tybalt the Cat.

In the steep woodland theatre we saw the hilarious James Campbell with The Funny Thing About…, a stand up comedy show for kids. Campbell is a genuinely funny chap who had all ages in fits of laughter (mostly at the adults expense); great jokes without the rude words!

It was such a treat to see Bootworks Theatre at the festival this year. The company who brought us the wonderful and challenging The Many Doors of Frank Feelbad were a huge hit with The Jukeboxes, a simple lip sync battle executed to absolute perfection. The show was absolutely hilarious and performed with such talent, and at a running time of just five minutes or so, we watched this over and over!

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Away from structure, rules and etiquette, theatre in the festival setting was refreshing and the audience freer in their reactions. As the age range was broad, there did seem to be some restrictions on subject matter, but plenty of room for aspirational, inspirational themes as well as those close to nature, and stories to move us and encourage us to reflect.

There’s just so much to do at this festival – beyond the wonderful theatre there was campfire singing, marshmallow toasting, pillow fights, a grand music stage, outdoor cinema, real life interactive arcade games, lantern parades, glorious maypole dancing, the tribal tournament and much more! We’ve come away from hours in the fresh air feeling nourished, more mindful and with a different energy.

Early bird tickets for Just So Festival 2018 (17 – 19 August, Rode Hall Estate, Cheshire) are on sale from Friday 25 August at midday at www.justsofestival.org.uk 

Simone is a trained actress and has worked in the theatre and television. She has also run drama workshops for children. She now teaches in a primary school in East London and regularly enjoys trips to the theatre with her six year old daughter.

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