Today, Eva and I went to see a piece of experimental toddler theatre. But more on that later – let’s start with the Imagine Festival. This year, there seems to be more to do than ever and we could have easily spent an afternoon just wandering about looking at things. Firstly, there’s a time machine:
It’s magic. You stand in front of it and then it magically rewinds time to show you what happened a few seconds before. Eva loved it, mainly because she could see herself in it. For her it was less of a time machine and more of a looking-at-Eva machine (doesn’t everyone need one of those?!). It also had a sound side, where you could plug and unplug jack plugs to make different noises and a series of buttons that created light patterns. Oh, and some balloons in front of fans. Lots of interaction potential.
For the more lo-fi taste though, why not just draw on the walls:
On the other side, next to the singing lift, there was a giant bed which will be used for telling stories. Which led to the best overheard quote of the day – a 9-year-old (or thereabouts) saying “I didn’t even know they made beds that big”. A heads up for you kid…they don’t. Sorry.
There was a Storytelling Jam in the Clore Ballroom, which we heard the end of (it seemed to involve ninjas and T-Rexes so Nathan would like it) but that was later. As we got there, it was eerily peaceful…as quiet as a place filled with toddlers and school groups can be. I suspect it’ll be far less quiet next week, when all the schoolkids break free from their schools for a week. But for now, there were plenty of free tables for me and Eva to sit and eat lunch at. By which, I mean she ate my lunch:
At that point, we received word that Baby Joshua and X were in the building, so we went all the way up to Level 4 to find them, passing one of the lesser-spotted festival features on the way:
There wasn’t much time to linger because our toddler theatre experience was about to start. It was called “Tube”, by the Oily Cart theatre company and promised to be an interactive, multi-sensory experience. We got to the end of the Spirit Level (the one under the ballroom) and found a gaggle of toddlers sitting in a fairly plain room, playing with bits of tubing while some people in spotty and stripy outfits cooed “tube” at them. Surreal would be an understatement. I was wondering if that was all that was happening, but then we were called through into the Blue Room where a cosy tent-like area was set up with soft seats, and tubes woven around the canvas, along with “peepo” holes.
What happened next was 45 minutes of funny, tactile, weird performance art. Eva looked a little terrified at first but she soon warmed up to the performers, who all had tube-shaped hats and red or monochrome outfits. They tickled her with feather dusters (that came in a big tube), blew on her hand with straws (little tubes) and gave her spotty shakers and peepo-toys (all tubes, naturally).
There were songs about bouncing and tickling, they were percussion instruments made out of tubes and a kind of wind instrument too. Tubes were used in every way you could imagine and some you couldn’t. I’ll admit that I didn’t quite know what to make of some of it – it was a bit experimental. But the babies and toddlers all enjoyed it and giggled as the surprises kept coming – a peekaboo toy here, a whistling balloon there. There was always something going on for them to look at, touch or listen to. It was perfectly aimed at their age group, and amazingly none of them had a tantrum until right at the end. I was impressed by the way the performers stage-managed as they went along as well – it wasn’t easy making sure every baby had a toy and that they gave them all back as well. But they somehow did it without tears.
The best bot was when the lights dimmed, and a colour-changing ball appeared in the clear tube around the wall. It was simple enough, but so effective, spreading toddler-awe and magic through the tent. Then the balls flew out, and filled the dark space with glowing orbs. It was pretty cool. And Eva thought so too, gathering three of them up for herself and trampling any babies that might have tried to get them. And then came the balloons:
Which of course delighted my girl, especially as she got to take one home with her (Reuben later used it as a limbo bar). It was a bizarre 45 minutes but it was fun. Tube-y, tactile, melodic fun. Perfect for 6-month-olds to 2-year-olds.
After that, there was just time to grab a butterfly biscuit and slice of red velvet cake from the pop-up kids’ cafe next to the ballroom and hear the end of that ninja dinosaur story before hanging out with X, Baby Joshua and Babybaby Caleb a bit more, this time on Level 6. Who knew there were so many levels?
It was tipping it down outside, so we were most reluctant to leave and go to pick Reuben up. It had to be done though, and at least Eva had a balloon to keep her happy…!
Disclaimer: I was given free tickets to “Tube” for review purposes. All opinions remain honest and my own.