The rise in quality theatre for children at the Fringe has been marked in recent years, with many of the major players in the field, such as Tall Stories and Catherine Wheels, now regularly represented in the programme.
One of the rising stars of the genre is Moulded Theatre, who return this year with Ribbet Ribbet Croak, a multi-sensory show at the Pleasance Courtyard designed for children of all abilities.
Artistic director Emily Jones reveals it all started with a bad batch of contact lenses. “We’re all short-sighted and it got us talking about how we would experience theatre if our eyesight deteriorated. It made us think about accessibility more widely and so we decided to make our new show as accessible as possible.”
To develop the idea they led a series of workshops at Discover Children’s Story Centre in London for children with a range of complex needs, including limited mobility and autism.
“We didn’t know who was going to come week to week, so we encountered a huge range of people. It was amazing to watch the responses of different children and their families. A key lesson was that if the adults enjoyed themselves, the children were much more likely to enjoy it too.”
Every show is a relaxed performance, so lighting states and sound levels are carefully managed, and each opens with a 15-minute sensory tour of the set. It allows the audience to meet the central characters—Grandma and Grandpa Frog—in an informal way, and adapt to their environment.
“Sometimes the Fringe can be a really crazy experience,” says Jones, “so we’re trying to create a much more chilled out environment.”
They also use Makaton, a form of sign language for children that has entered the mainstream thanks to the BBC’s Mr Tumble (aka Justin Fletcher). One of the company members, Soniya Kapur, is trained in Makaton and uses it to communicate key words from the story. And some of the signs are guaranteed to raise a smile: “The one for scuba diving, for example, involves miming putting on goggles and a tiny man diving off your hand.”
Moulded, which is based in London, doesn’t receive any Arts Council funding, so the production has relied on a crowdfunding campaign to make it to Edinburgh. But Jones is confident their work is addressing a strong demand.
“There is so little work for PMLD [Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities] and complex needs audiences that the companies doing it, such as Oily Cart and Frozen Light, are swamped and keen for others to come in. It’s very exciting to be part of that.”