Welcome to the city of the arts

Brian Hayward

Whether you are a fan of literature, classical music, jazz, stage acts or films, Edinburgh has something to entertain you. TES Scotland reviewers look at what is on offer in the spectrum of annual summer festivals to interest young audiences

For many parents and teachers, the children's shows on the Fringe are an opportunity to end the holidays or start the term with a treat. But how do you choose which to see? The programme offers more than 50 children's shows, for two-year-olds and upwards, every entry shouting "Me, me, me!" and giving the come-on with brief ambiguity.

Fringe children's shows come in three kinds. The majority can fairly be described as theatre, almost all of them banking on the popularity of the children's book they dramatise. But this mainstream children's theatre also has its fringes, on the one side the improving, educational shows and on the other the cheap 'n' cheerful, leave 'em laughing entertainments, such as Chipolatas in Groovy not Gravy at the Gilded Balloon II.

This is not to say that educational shows cannot also be entertaining. Dr Bunhead vs the World's Biggest Bogey, which also promises "Mr Wippy's giant poo", may more than anticipate the average child's interest in scatology, but Dr Bunhead's explosions always entertain as we walk with him on the wilder side of science.

Walking, as it happens, is the way the audience takes "a late morning outing for dog-lovers of all ages", from the Greyfriars Kirk to Candlemaker Row for Greyfriars Bobby, courtesy of Frantic Redhead Productions. If it is wet, you could choose to get your canine local history from the Kenspeckle Puppets' version in the Netherbow.

One genuine item of educational theatre on the Fringe comes from the Gordon Craig Youth Theatre, who play it right down the middle with Save our Theatre. The story is that the Palace Theatre is to be shut down and Pits, Tabs, Flyfloor and the rest of the menagerie have to find a new home. Find out how a theatre works - though the more important question, especially in educational theatre, is "whether" not "how".

Putting the fringes aside, in the search is for children's theatre that holds the spectator rapt and then lingers warmly in the memory, a good bet for the punter is to back favourites. These are always professional theatre companies, which sidelines all those worthwhile youth theatres, tried and tested over the years, but whose justification has to be as much for their performers as for their audience.

This is not to ignore the inspirational effect on the young of seeing their peers excel in stage work. Wells Cathedral School, in Somerset, returns this year with the musical Little Worth, with a pre-show workshop to prepare its audience for participation.

Leicestershire Youth Arts, a model youth theatre company and happily a Fringe fixture, is back in the St Anne's Centre with Roald Dahl's The BFG, for laughs, and Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies, which promises to damp the eyes and wet the feet.

In the same category belongs the Californian Travel Troupe of San Francisco. It is tempting to hope that their Robin Hood will be a collectors' item, of the "Tonight we dine in Notting-ham Castle" variety, but they are old hands and plan to show us the man through the eyes of his wife Maid Marian.

Of the other schools and youth theatres on offer, it may be enough to observe that Gordonstoun School defies its cold showers and porridge image with Five Go to Edinburgh, an Enid Blyton spoof, which has the undoubted attraction of being free.

More than a dozen professional companies play a range of familiar or original titles to satisfy hopes for an unmissable experience you can share with someone smaller than yourself. Do you take a chance on the copywriter? Do you go for the title and choose a Little Prince (there are two), or an Alice in Wonderland (there are three)? Are you attracted by a deprecating label, such as Bare and Ragged Theatre or the Hole in the Ground Company? Do you wait for the reviews? Do you believe the reviews?

No better than any racing tipster, I can only go for favourites. Glasgow writer Julia Donaldson has had huge success with The Gruffalo this year and I would take a chance on Tall Stories doing it justice. Wee Stories Theatre for Children know their business well and are at the Netherbow with Treasure Island: an each-way bet, I think.

Fringe, August 5-27. Programmes, tel 0907 159 2001, www.edfringe.com

Ticket hotline 0131 226 0000www.tallstories.org.ukpresent.htm

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Brian Hayward

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