Edinburgh Festival Fringe children's shows reviews: Beware the Beasts | Around the World with Nellie Bly | Covid for Kids | Will Tell and the Big Bad Baron | Dinosaurs and all that Rubbish

A storyteller and a scientist explore our post-lockdown world in two different shows for kids, while a 19th century female adventurer proves an inspiring heroine for children. Reviews by Rory Ford, Fiona Shepherd, David Pollock and Fergus Morgan.

Beware the Beasts. PIC: Lee Boyce.
Beware the Beasts. PIC: Lee Boyce.

Beware the Beasts ***

The Scottish Storytelling Centre, until 13 August

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The beasts are loose! During lockdown, when the world's streets and skies became silent, Scotland's mythical creatures were free to roam the land once more. Now that we have to share the world with these monsters it's probably a good idea to learn a bit about them.Storyteller Shona Cowie is our guide to Caledonia's creatures in this show suitable for ages four and up, and she makes an ideal host. Marshalling the sometimes chaotic energy of a room full of children, Shona harnesses it, using suggestions and shared actions to help tell her tales. These are traditional Scottish stories but enlivened and modernised by the participation of the children. Shona emphasises non-violent resolutions to monstrous encounters which is sometimes at odds with her audience (stabbing seems to be a bit of an all-purpose solution with under-10s) but it's a happily interactive and energetic show where you don't need to worry about your kids having to sit quietly. Shona studied at L'Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris - where Sacha Baron Cohen also trained - and, at times, you may catch a similar mischievous glint in her eye, born of a love of controlled chaos. Rory Ford

Around the World with Nellie Bly ***

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theSpace @ Surgeons Hall, until 20 August

There's a lot to like about this consistently engaging show which is suitable for pretty much anyone from the age of six and up. Firstly, it's all true; Nellie Bly was a journalist who lived in the 19th century who really did travel around the world after being inspired by Jules Verne – she also (SPOILER) beat Phileas Fogg's record too. There's actually a lot to learn about this fascinating woman – who was also a pioneer of investigative journalism – but you can do that after the show, which is all about adventure and fun.

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Nellie is played by Katie Overstall, who also wrote the show, and they give it a winning energy. Director Nell Thomas keeps it moving, cleverly upping the pace as Nellie approaches the finishing line. There's even a cute monkey puppet who actually was a real figure in this charming story too. Nellie was inspired to embark on her voyage because she became frustrated reading adventures where the protagonist was always male. She proved that girls could have adventures too and that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. It's a fine message and a fine show that deserves a bigger audience. Rory Ford

Covid For Kids ***

Pleasance Courtyard, until 16 August

If you learn nothing else from Covid for Kids, take note that, by definition, all pandemics are global so using the phrase global pandemic is, frankly, overkill, not to mention a personal bugbear of our host Professor Tom Solomon.

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Solomon, recently appointed Director of the Pandemic Institute, has been a familiar face on our TV screens through the lockdowns, one of a raft of virology experts who politely but robustly confronted misinformation and offered sensible encouragement over the last two fearful years. By his own admission, he was a little over-optimistic in predicting our pandemic preparedness but he’s still the biggest brain in the room as well as a good sport when it comes to making light entertainment of heavy weather.

Using animation, sound effects, cheap and cheerful costumes and audience participation, Covid for Kids traces the origins of the virus – a good excuse for some bat-related games – and pays tribute to the various medical superheroes who developed vaccines, tests and policy. Solomon doesn’t stint on the science; he literally dresses it up in a way that is accessible to all, fun for children and wryly amusing for adults. Fiona Shepherd

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Will Tell and the Big Bad Baron ***

Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose, until 21 August (not 10, 17)

It’s disappointing to note the small audience in for this new piece by the Theatre Fideri Fidera company, and then to discover it sits in the theatre section of the Fringe programme. We can only imagine some kind of clerical error must have occurred, because Will Tell’s story is absolutely a children’s show, and parents of toddlers and early primary years kids are advised to take note and give this light, lively and very smoothly-done piece of fairytale storytelling an hour of their time.

A bunch of characters are performed with enthusiasm by the two-handed cast (Natasha Granger and Jack Faires), in a story which takes the figure of Wilhelm (or William) Tell back to his Swiss folk tale origins as a kind of Alpine Robin Hood. Except here, Wilhelm is imprisoned by the preening tyrant Baron Boris von Bummelkrachenhofer – whose first name, blond mop of hair and bumbling ways seem oddly familiar from contemporary politics – and it’s up to his daughter Wilhelmina to free him.

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Granger is a welcoming, friendly lead, and Faires is eagerly silly as both the Baron and his smitten daughter Edeltraut. With songs, audience participation, inventive use of set and costume, a donkey made from a bicycle and some good old panto humour, it’s a show which the right audience needs to discover fast. David Pollock

Dinosaurs and All That Rubbish***

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Assembly George Square Studios, until 21 August

Originally published in 1972, Michael Foreman’s much-loved children’s book Dinosaurs and All That Rubbish – with its story of a megalomaniac man destroying the planet to fuel his flight to the stars, and de-fossilised dinos saving the day – is more relevant than ever in this era of multi-billionaire space races. Not that Roustabout Theatre gets particularly political in its hour-long stage version for kids aged three and above.

Instead, the Bristol-based company celebrate the book’s fiftieth anniversary with an adaptation that is carefree, colourful, imaginative and engaging. Under Toby Hulse’s direction, the three-strong cast – Oliver de Rohan, Robin Hemmings and Shaelee Rooke – use singalong songs, silly costumes, and inventive staging devices to bring Foreman’s story to life, and to deliver his timeless message about caring for the planet and prioritising the common good over individual ambition.

The best bits are the tunes played live by the cast on the guitar, keys and clarinet, the dinosaur costumes, and the odd Jurassic Park joke for the adults. More audience interaction could solve the issue of wandering attentions towards the end, as would Hemmings, Rooke and de Rohan ramping up their performances a bit, but this is an entertaining, early-morning hour for young audiences nonetheless. If only Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos would buy a ticket, too. Fergus Morgan