THE life and work of one of Britain's greatest storytellers is to be the centrepiece of a major children's literature festival.
Readings, workshops, performances and a new interactive experience celebrating the centenary of the birth of Roald Dahl will be the undoubted highlights at this year’s Imagine Children's Festival.
Imagine is back at the Southbank Centre for a 15th year and will take over the 21-acre site for two weeks from February 10.
As well as the homage to Roald Dahl, Imagine will be packed full of events spanning theatre, dance, art, music and installations alongside readings and workshops with some of the country’s top children’s authors.
Among those taking part will be David Baddiel, Judith Kerr, Rastamouse, Cressida Cowell, Mary Hoffman, Laura Dockrill, Cerrie Burnell and Ben Bailey Smith.
For the fourth year in a row children will play a major role in the organising and running of Imagine. The Mini Festival Makers, a group of children from eight local primary schools, have helped programme, promote and produce key events throughout the two weeks.
They have worked alongside programme director Tamsin Ace who says she’s excited about what this year’s festival has to offer.
“It’s been a lot of fun putting it all together,” she says. “Every year we try and tweak and develop it a bit and this year we wanted to bring in and involve more kids.
“They are only eight and nine and have made lots of suggestions, will run the building, take tickets and work in the box office.
“To have them run the building with us and have them involved in the process has been invaluable. They are the best people to be involved – they underpin the very essence of what Imagine is all about – a festival by children for children.
“It also gives them great experience of what it's like to work in the arts. We always see performing roles with people on stage but there is a whole range of jobs within the creative industries which being involved in this festival will give the children a chance to see and experience.”
This year more than half the programme will be free of charge offering families and schools access to literature, music, theatre, poetry, dance, interactive installations, workshops and a whole lot more besides.
“We want people to come along and dip their toe in and try things out and see what it’s all about,” says Tamsin.
“Stepping into a big building like this can be intimidating so we hope that by making many of the events and activities free it encourages people to come in and see what’s on offer.
“Everyone loves stories, being read to or reading to someone. This year we have some fantastic authors coming in to do readings and Q&As. Laura Dockrill will be one I can’t wait to see but we have so many it’s hard to choose.
“We’ve also got a lovely end to each day with a bed time story. It’s always really busy, crazy and overrun with families during the festival so we thought that this year we would invite different authors to come in and read their favourite bedtime stories.
“It’s been inspired by the BBC’s Cbeebies Bedtime Hour and I hope it will bring a sense of calm to the building.”
Elsewhere Tamsin says there are plenty of things to see and do. Author Judith Kerr will be in conversation about Mister Cleghorn’s Seal, her first illustrated novel in 37 years, Michael Morpurgo’s I Believe In Unicorns will be brought to life by theatre company Wizard Presents, Theater Gnaffel will present their double bill of Roald Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs performed by life size puppets, the Fantastical Story Factory will bring their improv comedy-inspired show which gets the audience to decide what happens next and there will be an interactive reading experience hosted by Michael De Souza, co-creator of Rastamouse.
There will also be plenty of workshops giving children the opportunity to try their hands at a range of activities including making animated films, clay sculpture, writing poetry, illustrations and learning sign language.
But for Tamsin the undoubted highlight will be the events focusing on Roald Dahl.
“This year is extra special because it is the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth and we wanted to celebrate that so we have a range of events inspired by his amazing legacy,” she says.
“Everyone has read him and I think what makes his books stand the test of time is that he believes in children as being the most powerful and important people within the narrative.
“His books are quite dark and nasty people get their comeuppance in them but children love that sense of naughtiness and he’s a brilliant mischief maker.”
The centrepiece of the celebrations is a new interactive experience The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl, commissioned by Southbank Centre in partnership with Wales Millennium Centre.
The experience takes visitors on a magical journey through seven different immersive worlds that explore the writer’s life and the world of his iconic books.
Featuring exclusive archival material from the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, including original manuscripts, personal letters, drawings, photographs and cherished objects, the exhibition offers a unique insight into the inspiration behind some of his best loved characters and stories.
The exhibition will launch with Imagine on February 10 and will run until July 3, before travelling to the Wales Millennium Centre.
Other highlights of the Roald Dahl celebrations include a performance of his final book The Minpins accompanied by live animation and the music of Sibelius performed by the London School’s Symphony Orchestra.
And for fans of Matilda, Dahl in a Day will see a whole host of people reading this iconic story throughout the day accompanied by dance, illustration and music.
“Working with archive material from the Roald Dahl Museum has been extraordinary and a real privilege,” says Tamsin.
“But the whole festival has been amazing to work on. To have so many events and activities dedicated to reading and literature, I hope it inspires a new generation of storytellers."
Imagine Children's Festival is on at the Southbank Centre between Wednesday February 10 and Sunday February 21. Visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk/imagine for full listings.