Just So Festival 2016, preview: A Wild Rumpus in the country

Suzy Prince
Child dressed as a fairy

We preview this amazing festival from Wild Rumpus, designed to delight the young – and the young at heart.

Now in its seventh year, The Just So Festival is an annual weekend-long camping festival for children and their families. It’s a magical experience every year, where art, music, entertainment and literature are intertwined. The setting – in the grounds of Cheshire’s Rode Hall – provides nature’s finest, with woodlands and lawns varied backdrops for the many and eclectic events taking place. It’s a truly interactive festival; the organisers invite visitors to bring along their skills, talents and ideas – bring your juggling balls, guitar, or favourite book to read around the campfire.

The festival is divided into areas, and looking at the line-up, any one of these could take up a considerable amount of the weekend. We hope our top picks will help with a bit of forward planning. Take The Village Green for example: highlights here include science magazine Whizz Pop Bang providing a star spotting bedtime wind down. The literature and storytelling programme, meanwhile, is being produced in association with Guardian Children’s Books, and promises the opportunity to meet some of the UK’s favourite children’s authors and hear some great tales.

A village green wouldn’t be complete without a bake off these days, and the Just So team have come up trumps; get cooking and take along the results. Ditto a traditional sports day, involving tug-o-wars and parent’s races. Then there are ukulele lessons, and other workshops taking place in a new curiosity shop. There’s also a midnight feast; stay up until midnight for stories from Ian Douglas, plus music. Prior to that there’s a chance to take part in a pillow fight.

The best family and children’s festival in the UK

Over in the Head Over Heels section, audiences will be regaled by many theatrical delights. There’s Scenes From A Suitcase, which lets audiences decide whether to open a suitcase and release the characters inside. Travelling Treasury is a storytelling experience that takes place inside a beautifully transformed caravan. There’s a new show by Les Enfants Terribles, The Fantastical Flying Exploratory Laboratory, which follows Dr Latitude and his team of misfits on a global quest to fictitious new lands. There are circus skills workshops and a Victorian peepshow project, too. Plus Brazilian dance and martial art form Capoeira is back, and promises to be as popular as ever.

The Spellbound Forest will see a human hive installation: a multi-sensory experience that harnesses elements of interactive sound, visual landscapes and projections. There’s also the chance for some solo theatre, with miniature puppet shows designed to be viewed by just one audience member at a time. On the educational side of things, audiences will be shown how to recognise trees, plants, mini-beasts and other facts of the forest, as well as how to find a fairy – of course. Or there’s a chance to learn how to build your own shelter then return to it at night to roast marshmallows and listen to stories around the campfire. You might also encounter a Gruffalo somewhere inside the deep, dark wood.

Phone Box is an energetic outdoor solo production by Corey Baker Dance, featuring an iconic red telephone box and an athletic performer. How Time Flies sees two eccentric archaeologists leading children and their families through a dig to find long lost artifacts. Along the way you might encounter Professor Kelso’s world famous travelling show. Head to the High Seas (in fact the beautiful Rode Pool) and you’ll find that the island in the middle is chock full of nesting herons. Taking place on the water is small scale performance All At Sea. The outdoor cinema in this area is screening classics such as Swallows and Amazons, The Wizard of Oz and Labyrinth. There’s also the chance to take part in a lantern parade and lantern making.

The Footlights area is where you’ll find music to swing to, with all manner of rabble-rousing noise taking place, including veteran banjo player Curtis Eller’s American Circus. Zorita blends influences from South America, the Mediterranean, Balkan and Folk Music, gypsy funksters Klonk exist to awaken your inner primal instincts, while Rum Buffalo provides blues, jazz and swing.

Finally, the Tribal Tournament underpins the whole festival, bringing a chance to dress up and win points for your chosen tribe throughout the weekend. Festival families can pick from allegiance to owls, foxes, frogs, stags, lions or fish, and then dress accordingly.

One thing’s for sure: Just So is the best family and children’s festival taking place in Britain and it’s right here on our doorstep. Lucky us…

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