Edinburgh international children’s festival review – sensory magic and complex ideas made fun

Not too long ago, theatre for babies sounded like a crazy indulgence. Now, the Edinburgh international children’s festival says it could sell out its shows for the under-twos several times over. Watching a performance such as Univers, you can see why. It is not only the babies who are mesmerised, it is the toddlers and adults, too.

Staged by Barcelona’s Engruna Teatre, and part of the festival’s mini-Catalonian season, it is a gentle exploration of tubes and spheres, delicately performed by two dancers, Anna Farriol and Maria Ballús, who also sing in accompaniment to Jordi Sala’s live ambient score. On an open studio stage, they discover gold nuggets that tumble in and out of turquoise containers, while above them, orbs are illuminated and dangly lampshades spin. As the objects roll and tumble in the direction of the audience, so the children become ever more engaged with the action.

The production by Mireia Fernàndez takes quiet delight in the joy of sensory discovery. It is subtle and precise.

Brilliantly inventive … An-Ki by Cia Ortega.

Is immersive puppetry a thing? It is the only way to describe another Catalan show, An-Ki by Cia Ortiga, a brilliantly inventive response to the environmental crisis. We gather at the centre of a dimly lit tent to watch a stream of sand forming an undulating landscape. We see it populated by miniature trees, then a house and, finally, a girl called Adja who nestles into her favourite branches.

The scale shifts with the arrival of a giant who scoops up the scene in one go. All that remains is Adja’s family home, a solitary tree and a devastated land where the only fruit is scrap metal.

The true wonder begins as we divide into groups and enter a series of spaces around the tent: a room full of flotsam where we plant a seed; the creaking cabin of a ship where the giant sleeps and his dreams play out; a domestic interior where a tap becomes a seahorse. We return to where we began for a spectacular sea storm and the magical return of life. Written and directed by Íngrid Codina and Guillem Geronès, every detail is exquisitely realised, every moment beguiling.

Admitting they don’t have the answers … Trashedy by Performing:Group

Suppose You Had a Portable Gramophone by Teatret Gruppe 38 and three other Danish companies is an impressive exercise in minimalism as three actors sit behind a table to narrate a story about closed-minded locals and an outsider who transforms a war-torn world through art and generosity. It is finely honed but, whether because of a restless audience or a stilted English translation, it too often crosses the line between subtlety and elusiveness.

Subtlety is not a charge you could level at Germany’s Performing:Group in Trashedy, a broadside against consumer culture. But what starts off as a familiar environmental polemic – cleverly integrated with the big-screen animations of director Leandro Kees – becomes more interesting when performers Julia Mota Carvalho and Daniel Mathéus interrupt their tightly choreographed routine to admit they have no answers to the questions they have raised. In desperation, Carvalho appears in a “kill yourself” T-shirt, a darkly humorous sign of a company unwilling to patronise its young audience. It is a lively show that calls for action but admits to complexity.

The Guardian