TakeOff Festival 2017

“Watching something like that just makes me want to immediately go and create something,” another delegate tells me at the end of BonteHond’s iPet, a play which combines magic tricks, comedy, and technological originality – but it’s the relationship between the two characters that makes it so successful. This more or less sums up my experience of TakeOff Festival – inspiring productions, new friendships and a recurring exploration of human relationships.

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Festival Programmer Jo Belloli made this focus clear from the very start, saying in her delegate welcome that this year’s TakeOff centred on “human relationships and connection, friendship and acceptance.” She was talking about the festival’s programme of shows, but also perfectly described the delegate experience: whether in scheduled networking events or leaping into the lift, we were constantly surrounded by similarly passionate, similarly buzzing people.

There were plenty of structured sessions to meet other delegates, from the welcome lunch to the Getting to Know You event (an opportunity for artists, companies, programmers and producers to share their ideas) and from the Early Bird breakfasts to the (very spirited) delegate party. But just as valuable were all the chance meetings – be they in lifts, corridors, cafes or auditoriums.

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The festival as a whole consisted of 96 performances at 24 venues across the area, at schools, nurseries, theatres and community centres. As delegates, we took one of five “routes” through the shows, as well as getting stuck in to the ancillary programme of workshops, discussions and script-in-hand sharings of new plays. The productions were diverse in form, focus and origin, though they all shared three key characteristics: depth, innovation and quality. Shows like iPet and Daniel Bye’s Error 404 communicated big ideas with small handheld devices. Theatre Centre’s Twist overlaid Charles Dickens’ 19th Century tale with a contemporary story of conflict and displacement, while Monstro Theatre’s Bookstory used the company’s pioneering puppet musical format to explore grief. With just two performers each and a simple, clear aesthetic, Teatro al Vacio’s Close and La Baracca’s Little Red Riding Hood were both minimalist productions of the highest calibre.

A variety of styles were represented, from Nearly There Yet’s acrobatic circus show The Party to Laitrum Teatre’s interactive installation Micro-Shakespeare, and from Handbendi Brúðuleikhús’s puppetry-led retelling of Icelandic folk tales in Tröll, to Daryl Beeton’s one-man show about inclusion and accessibility, A Square World. All ages were catered for, including the very youngest: Anna Beecher and Rachel Lincoln’s NEST was an immersive, multi-sensory experience for pre-walking babies and their parents and carers, while Tam Tam Theatre’s Leaf, a short and sweet piece about the seasons, was for very young children up to 3 years old.

A Square World

TakeOff’s 30th birthday year both celebrated the past and looked to the future, bringing together delegates who’ve been coming for years, and those who’ve been just once or twice. All were treated to a programme of established companies and new artists, technological wizardry and old school story-telling. In an environment that both explored and encouraged connection, what has stayed with me most is feeling part of a particularly dynamic, inventive, friendly community.

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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