The almost cult-like enthusiasm of Just So’s sizeable hardcore of repeat attendees is a wonderful thing that creates a real sense of community around this annual family arts festival as well, one assumes, a valuable bit of financial security for organisers Wild Rumpus when planning its next outing.
Families come back to Cheshire year after year, with growing children still delighting in the chance to spend three days dressed as a frog (or another of the seven animal ‘tribes’), listening to campfire stories and watching acrobats do their dextrous thing. One can understand why. Just So is an antidote to, and a cocoon from, much of what feels anxiety-inducing about the world just now. It isn’t shouty or angry, not garishly commercial or overly frenetic.
Notwithstanding the high octane energy of bands like Just So stalwarts Thingumabob and the Thigumajigs (the audience knew every word) and Ghanaian-born K.O.G. (not so much, but they loved it anyway), this is a celebration of the gentle, the silly and the creative. The downside of such a dedicated fan base is collective memory. There were – whisper it – some voices in the woods this year hinting that the programme for Just So’s twelfth outing was a little more sparse than previous iterations, and it did feel as though 2022 was lacking a couple of the tent-pole attractions (if you’ll excuse the camping pun) of years gone by.
Festival favourite the Fabulariam Theatre Company was in attendance as the animal tribe leaders, but sadly there was no separate show from them, and an alternative offering by Horsebox Theatre Company was cancelled at short notice, leaving the schedule’s dramatic offering a little underpowered. There were a couple of installations – giant swings and the hugely enjoyable cooperative escape room ‘Community Chest’ – that were very visible at the centre of the festival but had very limited capacity, leading to snaking queues of mildly frazzled parents and impatient youngsters.
There was also the mystery of the missing sinks – the campsite washing-up facilities of yore appeared to have vanished, leaving perplexed campers attempting to clean pans using a couple of cold water taps. But all of this was details, really. Details you wouldn’t have spotted had you not made the annual pilgrimage to Rode Hall multiple times, dusting off your frog hat and relishing in the anticipation of toasted marshmallows, dance workshops and magical, phone-free family time.
All of those things were to be had in spades. Helped along by perfect weather, there can be few people who went home from Just So 2022 with anything other than smile-inducing memories of experiences like Saturday night’s Heliosphere, in which an airborne acrobat twisted and twirled while suspended from a giant helium moon, or the bonkers participatory fun of spoof movie-makers Blockbuster Factory. These are the kind of diverse highlights that make Just So a cult worth joining. Roll on 2023.
Tickets for Just So 2023 (August 18-20, 2023) go on sale on August 26, 2022: justsofestival.org.uk