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.

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle