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‘Commercial theatre for children is like a McDonald’s Happy Meal: unsatisfying’, says festival boss

Edinburgh International Children’s Festival director Noel Jordan has hit out at commercial theatre’s “McDonald’s Happy Meal” approach to work for young people at school.

Speaking after the launch of this year’s Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, run by Imaginate, [1] Jordan told The Stage it was not enough for children to see theatre in schools if what was on offer had no real substance.

He said: “I compare commercial work for children with the McDonald’s Happy Meal. They think they want it, they get it, there is a buzz that comes with a little toy, it is all colourful, and then literally one minute after that meal is consumed, there is an emptiness and it is not satisfying or full or wholesome.”

Among the 15 shows from eight countries at this year’s festival are Us/Them, based on the Beslan siege of 2004, and I Wish I Was a Mountain, a co-commission with the Brighton Festival, based on Hermann Hesse’s metaphysical poem.

Gytha Parmentier and Roman Van Houtven in Us/Them at Summerhall, Edinburgh, in 2016. Photo: FKPH
Gytha Parmentier and Roman Van Houtven in Us/Them at Summerhall, Edinburgh, in 2016. Photo: FKPH

Jordan said: “I think children deserve to see work that reflects the world they live in. They are not wrapped in cotton wool, they are not in a bubble.

“Children have seen, like we have seen, the attacks that just happened in New Zealand. So seeing a work like Us/Them, which shows Beslan from the perspective of a child, unpacking that, helps them understand it.”

Jordan said he was concerned about theatre that tours into schools that is driven by a commercial imperative rather than a true celebration of the arts.

“I do worry that teachers see it is an easy, regular booking – in fact a lot of the companies will not leave the school until they have made the next booking at the end of the performance – that is part of their duties as the performer on the day, get the next booking.

“I would be very sceptical that those children will have any interest in participating in theatre and the arts in the future.”

The Edinburgh International Children’s Festival takes place at the end of May and includes the previously announced production of Punchdrunk’s Small Wonders. Delegate passes are still available.

Punchdrunk to present first Scottish production as part of new Imaginate programme [2]