A GROUP of children from one of Edinburgh’s less affluent areas has played a major part in shaping an internationally renowned festival.

The Craigmillar children, aged between 10 and 15, were given the chance to choose two productions at this year’s Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, formerly known as Imaginate.

And their “mature” choice surprised festival director Noel Jordan, who accompanied them to eight productions during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year.

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“I was impressed with their maturity when it came to programming, not just artistically but also financially,” he said. “One of the shows they liked was from New Zealand, but when I gave them the figures of how much it would cost to fly the company over they said that was too much money and they would rather spend it elsewhere.

“In the end they chose two smaller works, and the smaller casts meant we could afford two shows rather than one.”

WHAT DID THEY PICK?

THE two shows the children chose could hardly be more different from each other.

“Evil from Denmark is quite a dark work based on a true life account of a young guy growing up in the fifties in a fairly abusive situation,” said Jordan. “His mum sends him away from his abusive father to a boys’ boarding school which is actually far more brutal.

“The play considers what you do when you are faced with such violence — do you meet it in the same way? The boy tries various techniques but there is no easy answer. The young people I took along to this thought it was such a good story for other young people to see – especially those going through similar things themselves so they could get an idea about how to cope. I thought it was an incredibly mature response.

“The other show they chose is a complete contrast. It is from a company called Up and Over It whose show Into The Water uses their Irish folk dancing in a completely contemporary way.

“It’s very high-energy and very skilled.”

ANYTHING HOME GROWN?

THREE Scottish works also feature this year and it is hoped they will be picked up for exposure at other events across the globe.

Night Light has been specially commissioned for the festival and was funded through £80,000 provided by the Scottish Government Expo Fund via Creative Scotland. The production for three- to six-year-olds is by internationally renowned Teater Refleksion from Denmark and Andy Manley, creator of runaway success White. In the show the audience is immersed in a magical universe, following the journey of a curious little girl who wants to explore the night.

Night Light will tour Scotland for three weeks before the festival begins on May 27, and international delegates have already expressed interest in it.

Also in the programme is Little Red by Glasgow-based Barrowland Ballet, a company Jordan says as “very quickly establishing themselves internationally as being a really exciting dance theatre company for young audiences.”

The third Scottish work is MamaBabaMe from Star Catchers, leaders in early childhood work who have teamed up with Curious Seed to develop this premiere.

WHAT ELSE IS ON?

UNUSUALLY this year’s festival also includes a feature film of an Australian’s theatre company’s production for teenage audiences. It’s the UK premiere of Girl Asleep, which has won prizes at various international film festivals and is about a 15-year-old wallflower whose parents plan a surprise birthday party for her. “I’m really thrilled to bring it here,” said Jordan, an Australian himself. “It’s very visual and has this great Australian sense of humour so it is a lovely thing to premiere.”

The festival features 15 shows from nine countries including ones for younger children. Primo is an underwater performance installation in a large inflatable swimming pool, while Grass is a dance exploration of the earth and its wriggling inhabitants performed on real turf.

Productions for older children include Falling Dreams, a multi-media production taking the audience inside the head of a girl on the cusp of teenagehood that has a real music-video feel.

The Queen Has Vanished, from Belgium’s famous Kopergietery, focuses on the grief of losing a parent, and You and Me and The Space Between tackles climate change and migration through the story of a girl whose island has sprung a leak.

ANY FREE EVENTS?

FOLLOWING last year’s success the festival, which is funded by Creative Scotland, will once again open with a family weekend at the National Museum of Scotland.

Free drop-in events will be taking place all day including live music, pop-up performances, storytelling, hands-on arts activities and more.

It is the 28th edition of the festival, and Jordan’s first as festival director.

“I am genuinely excited by the calibre of local and international artists presented at the festival,” he said. “No two productions are alike and in no other city in the world is there an opportunity to see this incredible array of work which is electrifying, stimulating and continually surprising.

“I don’t think people realise how well this is regarded internationally. We get delegates from all over the world flying over to see what they can book for their own festivals, so it is quite unique.”

Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs, added: “Research has provided strong evidence of the value of young people experiencing culture from an early age, and the Children’s Festival ensures their exposure to high-quality arts.

“As Edinburgh celebrates its 70th anniversary as a festival city, it is a time for our artists to dream, reflect, invent and celebrate, bringing Scotland to the world and the world to Scotland through arts and culture.”

www.imaginate.org.uk/festival