Fairy Tales is the latest in a series of immersive children’s exhibitions to reach Hulme’s Z-arts from the Discover Children’s Story Centre in London. Designed in collaboration with illustrator David Litchfield and writer Ross Montgomery, it continues in the same delightful form as its tea-drinking Tiger and Gruffalo-themed predecessors.
This time, rather than diving into the world of a specific author, young visitors are invited to stroll (or run helter-skelter) through Fairy Town, a miniature land populated by characters and establishments from well-known stories such as Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood. During our visit, approaches to this prospect varied wildly depending on which end of the target age range of three to eight one was at.
The three-year-old nephew spent most of his time gleefully screaming “There’s a dragon!” or shaking tiny maracas while raving at the Castle Club disco (complete with smoke machine). The eight-year-old daughter, who is going on 13, deployed her best game face and took very seriously the mission of locating six mischievous gingerbread hidden around the exhibition space. Those in-between, or indeed several decades beyond the intended audience vintage, adopted a mixed methods approach: a bit of cooking up a plastic food storm in Hansel and Gretel’s Oven Door Café, a touch of housebuilding at the Huff and Puff Builders Merchants, and a spot of autocue reading – “Gruff Justice: Goat Trip-trap-tramples on Troll!” in Anansi’s newsroom.
It is comedy touches such as this, along with estate agent signs advertising gingerbread houses (“Comes with own cage and surprisingly roomy oven”) and Rumpelstiltskin-themed name generators, that keep Fairy Tales the right side of twee and make it fun for adults to explore alongside their offspring. The aesthetic is witty and charming rather than pink and naff, and even the would-be-teenage-eight-year-old dropped the cool and enjoyed herself immensely.
It is something of a coup for the lovely Z-arts to be the Northern host of these well-crafted exhibitions, and at £8 a head this is an excellent rainy day or school holiday option for anyone in the region with young children. The splendid Victoria sponge in the kid-friendly café was a final bit of sparkle on a fairy tale family afternoon out.
Fairy Tales is at Z-arts until February 2023. For more information, click here.