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Family travel: Best arts festivals for kids

If children are going to enjoy theatre, they're much more likely to do it in a non-traditional environment, and the UK's family-friendly festivals deliver this with bells, whistles and very little need for small viewers to sit still or be quiet

Published 17 May 2018, 16:00 BST, Updated 14 Jul 2021, 13:02 BST
bOing! Festival

bOing! Festival

Photograph by Jason Pay

Forget rigid chairs, deadly-silent auditoria, or sitting still. Instead, think: fluffy rugs, sprawling out and perhaps even squirming around, and hiding behind mum or dad for the scary bits. Even think talking out loud, if the mood takes you. This is the order of any day spent at bOing!, Kent's International Family Festival held over the August bank holiday. In its headline Androcles and the Lion production by Danish children's theatre company Teatret Gruppe 38, kids and parents get to lie back in hammocks and watch the action unfurl in the form of projections on to a canopy suspended above them. Projections is a limiting term, though, for this spectacle, as images differ each performance led by cast members improvising with liquids and such objects as flowers to create fairy-tale images. The music, too, is handcrafted to each performance.

The hammocks also evoke thoughts of bedroom stories, and Gruppe 38's hammocks have gone down especially well with audiences of autistic children, for whom they provide a safe, semi-enclosed environment from which to participate in a shared experience. Based on the famous legend, Androcles and the Lion was a (pun intended) roaring success at the :Danish+ festival in the city of Aarhus (held each May). bOing! draws its programme from hit performances and installations from festivals worldwide, this year including troops from France, Spain and Australia as well as Denmark, and theatres across the UK, with shows ranging from hip hop to a luminarium walk-in sculpture inspired by Barcelona's Sagrada Familia.

Hosted by the University of Kent's Gulbenkian arts centre, bOing! is free to enter, with charges for indoor performances only. So all you need to do is pack a picnic and a blanket and you're free to enjoy a whole host of shows you'd normally have to book a flight to see. Think of it as a mini cultural holiday.

bOing! festival 2018 runs 25-26 Aug 2018. Entry is free, with charges for some performances. 

Want some more inspiration?

Edinburgh International Children's Festival (26 May–3 June 2018)
Top-notch Scottish and international performances for children of all ages, teachers and families. For teens, don't miss Mbuzeni, a lyrical, darkly humorous tale about sisterhood and friendship from one of South Africa's most acclaimed young black female voices.

underbelly, London (until 30 September 2018)
Taking over the capital's Southbank for the whole summer, underbelly has a packed programme of international theatre and entertainment for all ages, including acrobatic comedy, SOAP and Circus Abysinnia. The festival itself is free to enter, and there are pop-up food and drink stalls geared to feeding tiny culture vultures.

Just So Festival, Cheshire (17–19 August 2018)
A children's arts event with the feel of a music festival (with both camping and glamping available). The focus is on children's stories from artists both native and international. Expect lots of outdoor shows, campfire tales and even forest theatre trails.

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Can't wait 'til August? Check out our team's ideas family days out for the May bank holiday here.

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