Preview of 2020 Belfast Children's Festival

Jenny Lee previews the 22nd Belfast Children's Festival and finds out from eccentric local comedian Paul Currie how the arts can help young and old

Lord Mayor Daniel Baker, Young At Art director Eibhlin De Barra and Gilly Campbell of the Northern Ireland Arts Council join The Bowties and young friends to launch the Belfast Children’s Festival 2020. Picture by Brian Morrison

WHAT can the video game Tetris tell us about how we connect with one another? Do you want to know why a man’s best friend is a stick? Have you ever wondered what the world is like for the partially sighted? What colour is sound? And have you heard the truth about Captain Hook?

All these questions and more will be answered in this year’s Belfast Children’s Festival which takes place in 13 locations across the city from March 6 to 11.

The largest children's arts festival in the island of Ireland will see over 100 events explore the theme of community, which, says Eibhlín de Barra, director of Young at Art, "will help children understand the world around us and their place in it".

Unveiling the packed programme launch in Belfast's MAC theatre, which will serve as the hub for the 2020 festival, she added: "The 22nd Belfast Children’s Festival programme is a wonderful mix of theatre, dance, comedy, music, visual arts and literature for families which will once again be nourishing the creative minds of children and young people and proving why arts and culture are so important for the social, emotional and educational wellbeing of our children and young people."

Opening the festival at the Lyric Theatre's Naughton Studio on March 6 will be Replay Theatre’s eagerly awaited Untold Truth of Captain Hook. This brand new show invites young audiences on an adventure where they will encounter shipwrecks, mermaids, crocodiles and pirates.

Another home-grown highlight will be the Belfast Music Ensemble's premiere of their KinderMusik Project at St Martin's Centre on Belfast's Newtownards Road. Written for narrator, chamber ensemble and toy instruments, it uses nursery rhymes, nonsense songs and live video.

On Sunday March 8 the Cathedral Quarter family fun day will be bursting with exciting and free activities activities, including the ever-popular Baby Rave in the MAC, art workshops, pop-up cinema, augmented reality workshops with Art Cart and more.

Returning to the festival on March 10 will be the popular Family Comedy Club with Paul Currie. You never know what comes next with the eccentric Belfast comedian, who entertained the audience at the festival launch, warning them "it's going to get weird now".

Wearing a dashing suit and white-heeled boots, he had the audience in the palm of his hand controlling their every action – from getting them to play 'finger pipes' to riding a 'luck dragon' and raised many laughs as he made poo jokes and performed puppetry and song to the theme tune of Coronation Street.

Currie studied visual communications at Belfast Art College and worked in advertising in Scotland before an encounter with a street performer at the Edinburgh Festival led him to rethink his future and train with Belfast Community Circus, where he still teaches.

"I love the energy of the parents and kids enjoying something on the same level. I was always a big fan of The Muppet Show when I was growing up and that was for everyone," says Currie about his family shows.

And the secret to his act, which he describes as "clownarchy"? "If you make yourself the biggest idiot in the room then everyone else will happily join in as they will think 'I couldn't look any stupider than him'," says Currie, who is passionate about the power of the arts.

"The arts are not only important for children, but for the entire world. My philosophy is that we are all artists and we are born with these amazing creative hands and brains and we should use them. Unfortunately in the consumer capitalist world we live in, we are made feel that art is a novelty. However, it is a necessity for mental health. I myself have suffered from depression in the past and writing, painting or doing sculpture is better than any drug you can take."

Lord Mayor of Belfast Daniel Best seconded Currie's endorsement of the importance of the arts telling the audience at the festival launch, which included pupils from Seaview Primary Belfast that "art plays a vital role in all our lives, whether we realise it or not."

He spoke of how he had failed his transfer test, and in his first couple of years at secondary school struggled academically, before his interest in art and drama got him back on track.

"I believe investing in art, music and sport at a young age is key to unlocking potential and building resilience. The diversity of the programme on offer in this festival is a true credit to the Young at Art team and I wish them every success," he said.

This year's festival features three works from the Netherlands, including Tetris, at the Brian Friel Theatre on March 11. Aimed at "kids who can't sit still", and inspired by the game Tetris, this extremely physical show explores how we connect with one another and how we belong to a community.

Another Dutch production, Hermit, is a non-verbal show, about a mini-house and its shy inhabitant. Aimed at audiences age two and over, it celebrating the joy of discovery.

Scottish production Stick By Me is a physical performance about friendship, invention, play and the importance of treasuring the little things, while Dublin's Abbey Theatre will showcase a work-in-progress performance based on John B Keanes's Sive, aimed at audiences 10 and above, at the MAC on March 7.

The festival will also present several performances, for children and families with additional sensory and communication needs.

:: For full programme and tickets visit

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