Snow queens and singing tigers: children's theatre at the Edinburgh Festival

There's plenty adults will enjoy, too.

Comedian David Mills jokingly sums up the Festival cliché: “I see the children out there, and they're so thrilled to be sat in a sweaty basement with a bunch of burnt out hippies producing Puss in Boots in sign language.”

But while the Fringe may have a reputation for drunken, off-the wall shows, and there are plenty of Naked Hitler: The Musicals and The Improvised Vagina Monologues out there, there are many shows for families with children to enjoy as well.

Here are a pick of some of the best; shows that you can bring your children to without dreading a saccharine Tellytubby experience. These are kids' shows that parents will love.

Aireborne Theatre's The Snow Queen is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale that brims with charm. The audience joins a troupe of travelling storytellers in their camp, and the talented ensemble cast bring the tale to life using the brooms, pots, pans and hanging washing the travellers have to hand. The performances are perfectly-judged and beautifully choreographed; children from the very young to the almost-adolescent are held spellbound, shouting out only to warn the heroine of danger, or join in with the original musical accompaniment.

Swamp Juice is probably the most visually impressive show on this list. Shadow-puppeteer Jeff Achtem controls the puppets and visuals – all built out of reclaimed materials – and all the sound effects himself. The story is simple, but the graphical devices get more and more complex and interactive all the way through, building to a jaw-dropping three-dimensional climax.

Serious theatre geeks will get an enormous amount out of Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown And His Singing Tiger. Absurdist visual comedian Phil Burgers is a clowning instructor who learned his craft with the infamous Philippe Gaulier, himself one of Jacques Lecoq's most famous pupils. A master of physical comedy for both adults and children, his every move, or rather, that of his stage alter ego Dr Brown, is a consummate pleasure to watch. Nobody can hold an audience in the palm of their hand like him, and this show is no exception.

Fringe veterans Belt Up Theatre specialise in atmospheric audience participation. Their current oeuvre boasts three shows inspired by the life and works of three famous children's authors: JM Barrie, Lewis Carroll and their newest, A Little Princess, is based on the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. These guys love engaging with their audience, and have created the site-specific experience of a drawing room in a buttoned-up English boarding school. They recruit their audience to their ranks to experience and participate in the story of the seven-year-old girl who is dragged to it, rather than merely bear witness to it on stage.

The Magician's Daughter by Little Angel theatre has impeccable theatrical pedigree. It is based on The Tempest, written by former Children's Laureate Michael Rosen and backed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Like much of this list, it is a mixed-media melange of puppetry, music and storytelling, following Miranda's daughter as she explores her island home. Rosen, as ever, has the people's touch; and his blend of comedy and knowing nods to the Shakespeare is delightful.

Beginning with a true story of schoolboy with leukaemia whose parents create a fantastical imaginary world for him to inhabit, Firehouse Creative Productions worked with the Whittington children's hospital in North London to investigate how the imagination can be a supremely powerful tool to overcome illness and adversity. The end result, Superjohn is riotous fun for kids, but also deeply, deeply moving for adults.

Children watch a street performer at the Edinburgh Festival in 2006. Photo: Getty Images

Nicky Woolf is reporting for the New Statesman from the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.