Page last updated at 07:43 GMT, Thursday, 13 August 2009 08:43 UK

Child's play is Fringe attraction

By Steven Brocklehurst
BBC Scotland news website

Andy Day, from Cbeebies, entertains children at the Pleasance kidszone
Andy Day, from Cbeebies, is one of the celebrities helping to entertain children at the Pleasance kidszone

The courtyard of an Edinburgh Fringe venue is alive with a new sound this year - children.

The Fringe is famous for its uncompromising comedians, its provocative theatrical performances and all manner of weird behaviour.

It is an event at which nudity and blasphemy have lost their shock value.

So the rise of children's shows is a surprise to many.

However, more than 4% of the 2,000 shows on the Fringe are aimed at children, with many more marketed as family shows.

The Pleasance, which is running 11 shows, has also designated part of its courtyard as a Kidszone.

It contains a Teepee for storytelling, a cafe serving kid's food and an area where parents are encouraged to sit and play with their children.

It also has a replica of the Blue Peter garden, courtesy of former presenter Peter Duncan.

The kidszone is the idea of Candida Alderson who, as the wife of the venue's director and mother of three young children, was well placed to make it happen.

Somewhere to play

She said "pure frustration" had driven her to set it up.

"Until you have your own children you don't realise what you need," she said.

"For the past four or five years I have been here with my children, going to see all the lovely kids shows.

"But there is nowhere to be with the children before or after the shows."

Candida said the "dream" was to have an area where adults could flick through the Fringe brochure while their children were entertained.

She said: "The children have got somewhere to play. It does not have to be much, a few toys, some colouring sheets, just some fun things to do."

The staff and performers at the Pleasance have all been coming down to help out in the teepee.

The Blunderbus company have been at the Fringe for 11 years
The Blunderbus company have been at the Fringe for 11 years

Candida said: "Peter Duncan, Andy from Cbeebies, Marcus Brigstocke, all sorts of people have agreed to do it.

"Many of them because they have got their own children and know what it is like."

There are 91 children's shows in this year's Fringe programme.

C venues, which are running 14 children's shows and 54 family shows, said children's productions were growing in number and selling well.

It has introduced a maze and giant games as part of its C Soco urban garden on the Cowgate.

Kelly Apter, children's editor of The List magazine, has been reviewing Fringe shows for younger audiences for 10 years.

She said: "During that time, I've definitely seen a steady rise in the quality of work being performed. I remember years ago, actually taking my newspaper out in one show and reading it surreptitiously at the back, as I was just so bored."

Honing their craft

According to Ms Apter, there are a number of very strong companies such as Tall Stories, Theatre of Widdershins and Blunderbus who bring consistently good work to the Fringe.

"The main reason for this is they spend all year honing their craft - not just a few weeks leading up to August," she said.

"At the other end of the scale, you have young student companies who seem to think that putting on a children's show is an easy fast-track to Edinburgh.

"They have clearly spent precious little time in the company of young children, so struggle to pitch things at the right level - whereas the professional companies know exactly what works, and for what age group."

There is one crucial factor which every professional companies is very aware of, according to Ms Apter, who has two daughters aged seven and 12.

The courtyard also has a version of the Blue Peter garden
The courtyard also has a version of the Blue Peter garden

"Sitting next to every child you have an adult - and sometimes more than one - who has paid for the tickets.

"While I'm not keen on companies which include too many adult in-jokes which baffle the kids, it's always nice to be acknowledged by the performer - and, ultimately, entertained."

Bill Davies, from theatre company Blunderbus, said when he played his first Fringe 11 years ago there were just seven other companies.

"The perception of children's theatre is more important now.

"More people know there is good children's theatre at the Edinburgh festival."

Mr Davies, whose show Giraffes Can't Dance is at The Spaces at the Royal College of Surgeons, said the venues were much better than they used to be and more child-friendly.

He said the attitude of children's shows was "more professional" and the expectations of the audience were high.

As Pleasance director Anthony Alderson said: "Our latest problem is where the hell do we put the prams!"

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