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REVIEW: Thousands enjoy a weekend of family fun at Just So festival

Gareth Tidman watches foxes, frogs and bees do battle at the event organised by Macclesfield's Wild Rumpus

Review : Just So Festival, Rode Hall

I’m dressed as a furry Donkey Kong throwing foam barrels at my nine-year-old son as he gleefully struggles to overcome a series of hurdles to save the princess dangling from a string in front of me.

A curious and baffling dream? No, the return of the Just So festival - organised by Macclesfield’s not-for-profit social enterprise Wild Rumpus - which has a proven track record in finding weird and wonderful ways to fuel and challenge young minds.

Now in its eighth year, this annual festival for families is attracting thousands to Rode Hall near Alsager, convincing them to come elaborately dressed as foxes, fish, owls, stags or bees and ready to do battle in a tribal tournament between the different species.

And from the look at the large numbers this year, it’s a formula for success that shows no sign of abating.

Just So, set up by Macclesfield’s own Rowan Hoban and Sarah Bird, puts the little ones at the heart of everything it does. And the kids love it.

So it is no surprise to find myself playing the role of Kong or to see a dad a few yards to my right wearing a giant Pac Man helmet, wearily chasing three littles ones decked out as ghosts around a maze in the Actual Reality Games Arcade, a brilliant non-digital re-imagining of classic early video games with the joysticks and Spectrums unplugged.

Later we will take part in a mass jelly fight, a stickier upgrade on the pillow fight, a long-time staple of Just So festivals.

Set in the hall’s charming fields and woodlands, wherever you wander you’re likely to stumble across something to fire the imaginations of young minds, whether it’s The Tales of Animalia, an interactive performance from the animals of the woods in human form, or a group of children held spellbound by the magical words of award-winning poet Joseph Coelho.

At one stage my six-year-old daughter finds herself singing on stage with a harmony duo apparently time-transported from 1930’s Brighton, and at the end of the final day we find ourselves dozing off to a showing of Charlie Chaplin’s wonderful 1921 film The Kid.

Somehow we miss the magical lantern parade and have flaked out long before the midnight feast.

Black clouds threaten, but never really spoil the fun, and the festival really shines when the sun appears.

As usual there are plenty of food stalls knocking out some fantastic grub from all over the world, and an entertaining array of bands, which, although you have probably never heard off them, know how to bring an energy to get most members of the family on their feet.

With numbers limited to 5,000 to maintain the festival’s safe and intimate ambiance, and the success of Just So leading to it being exported to New Zealand and Brazil, it’s probably not wise to leave it too long to book your tickets for next year.

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