Spellbound Festival

James McColl reports on this magical festival

The Soapbox Children’s Theatre, home of Stiltskin Arts & Theatre CIC in Devonport Park, was once again transformed for Spellbound – Goblin & Fairy Festival. In its second year, this family friendly weekend is a chance for kids of all ages to experience magical theatre performances, music and enchanting storytelling in a unique and encouraging environment.

By 11.30am on the first day, events had truly gotten underway with performances sprouting up across the festival and an army of costumed families running rampant around the tents and stalls. Music boomed across the festival, clashing with some of the more intermit events and storytellers. Noise pollution seemed to be a concern for the weekend as in such a small space, things tended to overlap. The festivalgoers didn’t seem to mind and the crowd never seemed bored, jumping from one tent to another and soaking up the different stories and performances. By midday, The Soap Box Theatre building had opened its doors welcoming fairies and goblins in for some more isolated performances, away from the bulk of the festival.

One of these performances was a Puppet show by Rattle Box Theatre (Dave Oliver and James Richardson). The story is set in a small Inuit village, Grandpa is challenged by an evil imposter and unwelcome visitor for the title of village shaman. After fighting with the unwelcome guest with no clear winner, Grandpa seeks his ancestor’s advice, outsmarting the unwelcome visitor and revealing that he is indeed an imposter! This puppetry performance brought a sense of magic and illusion to proceedings thanks to the expertly made puppets supplied by Richardson’s Angel Heart Theatre and the puppetry itself was professional and very engaging to watch. Though a very simple setup, like all good puppetry, this show suspends the audience’s disbelief and brings these characters to life. As storytellers, Rattle Box Theatre brings an element of magic and mystique to their shows that appeal to the young audience’s sense of wonder.

The Soap Box continued to house impressive family theatre throughout the day, shows like Spangles the Clown Show, which as the title suggests is a one person clown show and was a firm family favourite. Like all great clowns Spangles (Steve Eldridge) is always in control of his audience and show, the trick being that you never for a moment feel like it is choreographed. With children running wild on stage and Spangles doing his worst to keep a lid on the carnage, the fun is in the madness of it all. Using props, costumes and everything else you would want to see in a clown show, Spangles holds his young audiences attention with ease and pleasure. The joy and goodwill extended to the adults in the room, who on occasion are roped into the show (much to the dismay of the parents and delight of the children).

Outside in the park the theatrics continue with Robin Goodfellow’s Amazing Travelling Theatre and its one-person performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Goodfellow (John Brolly) beckons’ families around his travelling theatre much like a group of old friends gathering round a camp fire for ghost stories. It’s an uphill battle to perform Shakespeare to a crowd of kids in a noisy outdoor tent, an atmosphere but Brolly seems at home in it. Running from one end of the crowd to another and brandishing masks of Midsummer characters, Brolly educates his young audience in Shakespeare. It is at times both impressive and hilarious to hear kids shout out the names of Midsummer characters (or something close to) as Brolly jumps from one character to another. Like all of the performers at the festival improve skills seem essential to survive as a children’s entertainer, something that Brolly has no trouble with as he takes heckles from the kids in the audience. His disarming presence and storytelling abilities strip Shakespeare of any impenetrable properties.

Stiltskin (the organisers of the festival) are a not-for-profit organisation that continues to develop The Soapbox Theatre into a unique theatre and arts space for children and their families. They have been based at the soap box for the last two years and have transformed the desolate unused building into a thriving hub of activity. Profits from the Spellbound Festival go towards the continual development of The Soapbox Theatre. We are looking forward to seeing what they magic up for 2018!