TakeOff Festival & international theatre

Though Little Red Riding Hood is the oldest show at this year’s TakeOff Festival, this is the first time it is being presented in the UK. Created by Italian company La Baracca, it is just one of several productions by international companies at the 30th anniversary edition of TakeOff. The two-hander brilliantly captures the energy of childhood play, as the siblings’ attempts to retell the classic fairytale are interrupted by pillow-fights, plenty of chasing, and squabbles over who gets to play the wolf. Actually, the show seems to say, young people often engage in the type of experimental storytelling that many adult theatremakers covet: watching the siblings’ gender-defying, convention-flouting rendition reminded me of living-room performances that my family would put on.

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Talking of firsts, this is the first time Mexican company Teatro al Vacio have visited the UK. The title of their show, Close, reflects their exploration of physical proximity and shared space, intimacy and relationships, and how and why we can shut ourselves off from the people and experiences around us. The non-verbal interactions and mirrored movement of performers Adrian Hernandez and Jose Aguero gradually build into a deeply resonant production that really does delve into some of the essential themes of modern human existence.

Tröll, a wordless piece from Icelandic company Handbendi Bruouleikhus, strikes a similarly gentle and thoughtful tone. Inspired by Icelandic folk tales, this is the story of a young girl who befriends a troll. The production is beautifully realised, with puppet trolls emerging from the craggy canyons and rocks to an original soundtrack sung by local farmers and fishermen. Though it touches on modern issues, like colonization and its impact on local communities and the environment, part of the show’s charm is its enigmatic nature.

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From the moss-covered rocks of Northwest Iceland, to a mischievous digital monster: iPet is a hilarious production from Dutch company BonteHond. Though it revolves around iPads, in many ways iPet is very traditional: a magic show with clowning from a comedy double-act, it is enhanced by an ingenious use of handheld devices. Often the conversation around technology and children is a fearful one, but this show demonstrates that digital doesn’t only have the capacity to suck us in and disconnect us, but to help us look outward and facilitate creativity. At the same time, iPet makes sure to cheekily allude to the ways in which technology has a hold on us, in a production led by two incredibly charismatic performers, Dionisio Matias and Michiel Blankwaardt.

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And of course there’s Micro-Shakespeare, the incredibly fun interactive installation from Spanish company Laitrum Teatre, which you can read more about here.

Being part of TakeOff’s delegate programme has meant not only the chance to see international work, but to discuss it. On the second day, there was a round table chat about international touring led by industry leaders, which broadened into a wider conversation about differences in form and style between UK and international theatre for young audiences. An opportunity to find out about the EU funded Small size project reflected on pathways and possibilities for potential connection between companies and countries interested in arts and culture entitlement for early years, including the new productions created as part of Small size, Wide Eyes, the Small size festivals, and the Small size network. As much as TakeOff is about gathering the TYA sector together, from across the country and around the world, it’s also about sending us all away again with experiences and connections that can take children’s theatre to a whole new place.

Children’s Theatre Reviews exists to help plug the gap in criticism and writing about theatre for young audiences. It is run entirely voluntarily, and needs support to continue covering and supporting the sector. For more information and to help give children’s theatre the voice it deserves, please visit our Patreon page.

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