Greenwich Family Arts Festival returns this week, bringing with it a host of free events, workshops, performances and multi-sensory experiences.

The annual festival was established as a partnership between Greenwich Theatre and Greenwich & Lewisham Young People’s Theatre (GLYPT), but for the past two years it has been produced exclusively by the latter. Holly O’Mahony speaks to Jeremy James, artistic director and CEO of GLYPT to find out more.

“The heart of the festival is encouraging families to do things together. Not necessarily going to see a show, it might be doing a workshop or going to an event,” says Jeremy. “Sometimes with children’s theatre, adults switch off because they think it’s just for the kids, but there’s often a lot the adults could get out of it, too.”

Jeremy and the team at GLYPT are keen to keep most of the festival programme free. “We try to stretch the money as far as we can by making as many events free as possible,” he says.

This year, the festival programme breaks down into four distinct categories: free outdoor performances (which make up the majority of events), a smaller number of indoor shows, workshops, and events designed to draw people from different cultures together, such as Edible Tales – which Jeremy is particularly excited about.

“We have five chefs from five different cultures at each Edible Tales event, who are each cooking a different dish,” he says. There’s a professional storyteller telling food-related stories from around the world and a host for each event, too. “The chefs introduce their dish and over the course of the meal, we encourage different people to tell their own stories.” This, Jeremy hopes, will lead into a later GLYPT project to create a community play telling the stories of local people.

                             Photo: ® Moin Routes Ailin Conant

Other highlights of this year’s Family Arts Festival include Games Without Wires, a celebration of board games from around the world, which hopes to bring together people from different cultures, ages and genders for an afternoon of ‘gaming’ in General Gordon Square in Woolwich.

In a new collaboration for 2019, the festival has partnered with Sounds of the World, a musical series produced by musician and promoter Ganga Thapa and the Tramshed theatre. The event sees Britain’s most successful British-Bangladeshi artists, Shapla Salique and Guinean griot Mosi Conde, perform on Greenwich Bandstand.

There’s also the Pumpkin Story Tent – which originates from the Story Museum in Oxford – where little ones can go to hear tales and dress up as their favourite characters. The tent will also host a special event: The Little Prince dane workshop, a chance to explore the much-loved classic tale through movement.

An event which could be viewed through a political lens is Bees!. But, Jeremy is quick to stress the experience is more “wacky street theatre” than a bid to raise awareness of the plight of bees.

Created by street theatre company Artizani, the event features an installation of six hives, each housing a multi-sensory experience relating to the honey-loving, black-and-yellow-striped insects – from hearing and feeling the bee to smelling and even tasting it. Without revealing too much, Jeremy adds that one hive in particular will shock those who get up close.

For the first time this year, the festival is focusing on a specific area of the borough each day, with Woolwich, Greenwich, Eltham and Thamesmead each getting at least one full day of events, while activities are spilling over into Plumstead and Middle Park, too.

“My hope is that the festival gives local people fun, engaging and often beautiful experiences that they can enjoy together as a family. It’s about coming together and sharing these experiences.”

Greenwich Family Arts Festival runs from May 25 – June 2, taking place in locations across the borough.

Main photo: Maia Kirkman-Richards