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 a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA