Review: Polly Dunbar at Imagine Children’s Festival London

Pigeon Pair and Me
Imagine Children's Festival

Imagine has just finished its run of events, but there are more upcoming on the Southbank.

[Note from Nell: this review of Polly Dunbar’s performance at Imagine Children’s Festival is a guest post, which was kindly written by the Daddy D. Thank you, D!]

Tilly and Friends, unlike Borgen, Homeland, Scooby Doo or Melody, is not one of the TV shows that have had a significant impact on our home lives recently. All I could really recall about the TV series was some sweet sketch animation and a surprisingly eerie theme tune, and we have not read the books with either of the Pigeon Pair to date.

As a result I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I arrived at the Royal Festival Hall, along with our sleepy almost-two-year-old girl, to see the author as part of the Imagine Festival.

What we got was an introduction to Polly Dunbar’s imagination from the author herself, a world where narcissistic bossy chickens wear blusher and where a penguin can and will bite a lion on the nose in defence of a small boy. Polly herself was wonderfully engaging and refused to be put off by the sort of surreal heckling only offered by the under-fives. I don’t think there is any adequate comeback when one is persistently interrupted by an audience member shouting; “You should never, ever, ever eat elephant bottoms. Ever.” However she remained remarkably unphased. In fact she was so approachable that the whole show was punctuated by the most persistent stage invaders outside of a One Direction gig, most of whom seemed to want nothing more than to get on stage with her and show her their tummy.

Polly read from one of her Tilly books whilst simultaneously illustrating the story on a flip chart, asking little helpers to add details to the pictures, and flipping backwards and forwards to develop the drawings and the plot. As someone whose artistic abilities are already being challenged by his four year-old son I’m easily impressed by this sort of thing, but it was very cool watching all this develop in real time, and Gwen was tellingly rapt throughout. There followed musical interludes, dance instruction (for the children), and a reading of her prize-winning book Penguin – with the eponymous hero of the story appearing as a glove puppet on-stage.

It was an hour that passed quickly, and there was enough opportunity to dance, wriggle, shout and generally get involved that even the youngest kids seemed to have no problem in maintaining interest throughout. If you get a chance to see Polly I would recommend you do so. If not, remember the tip about the elephant bottoms.

Pigeon Pair and Me

Austin and Gwen, practising their illustration skills at home

Disclosure: we were given free tickets to see Polly Dunbar, but all views expressed here belong to the Daddy D.

Read more about Imagine Children’s Festival here.

Don’t forget to check out our guide to the best theatres for kids in London.


  • Mummy Glitzer
    February 24, 2014 at 7:43 am

    This sounds like something that would have been right up Harry’s street. It also sounds like a busy hour, I wouldn’t have thought to take him along to something like that before to be honest.

  • laura redburn
    February 24, 2014 at 8:40 am

    as an illustrator myself, i really like the idea of a bit of real time illustrating! anything that encourages creativity is good in my book!

  • suzanne3childrenandit
    February 24, 2014 at 9:03 am

    How cool. I was thinking about taking mine along to the Children’s Festival but decided everything was probably a little bit too young for them. Certainly sounds as though Gwen enjoyed it!

  • Keri-Anne
    February 24, 2014 at 9:35 am

    What a lovely time it looked like you had. x

  • anna
    February 24, 2014 at 10:04 am

    That sounds really interesting! It’s good to know the little ones all managed to keep their interest, I always worry with mine whether they will manage to stay in one place so people can listen, but I should take them to this kind of thing more!

  • model mummy
    February 24, 2014 at 10:57 am

    Lovely pictures as usual – and isnt it great when you can get the other half to blog a review!
    Great review!

  • Mummy of Two
    February 24, 2014 at 11:26 am

    This sounds like a great event. I would love to take my son along to something like this – will have to keep an eye out for things happening near us.

  • Angela Spicer
    February 24, 2014 at 11:28 am

    sounds like you all had a great time

  • Jen aka The Mad House
    February 24, 2014 at 11:44 am

    I loved taking my boys to shows when they were younger and this sounds fab

  • Sonya Cisco
    February 24, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Sounds wonderful! In my time working in the book trade I was lucky enough to take my kids to a few writers talks, and they were always utterly enchanted!

  • YouBabyMeMummy
    February 24, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Ah they look so happy! What fun x

  • Charlotte
    February 24, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Sounds like a fab day! and lovely picture 🙂 x

  • Aisha from expatlog
    February 24, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Sounds perfect, creativity in real-time and an hour duration to respect limited attention spans.

  • agatapokutycka
    February 24, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    Sounds lovely and very interactive.
    I wish there was more events like this.

  • Katie Albury
    February 24, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    Ah this sounds fun! There’s nothing quite like hearing a story read by the author itself, I recently attended the launch of Neil Gainman;’s new book and it was such a brilliant experience.

    Katie x

  • MrsShilts
    February 24, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    The festival sounds fantastic. I can’t wait to take my Little Mr to a fun filled afternoon of activities like this one day.

  • Pinkoddy
    February 24, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    I love live shows that keep the children’s interests – glad this was a good one.

  • Hellie's Corner
    February 24, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Live shows are great for kids of that age, they can be kids without upsetting adults and parents desperately trying to keep them quiet. We use to love the annual panto as a family.

  • Anna J
    February 24, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    I LOVE Polly Dunbar, glad you all had a fun time.x

  • Sam @happyhomebird
    February 24, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Sounds like a great event and I’ve just realised who Polly Dunbar is – I can clearly picture the front cover of her Penguin book which has been a favourite of ours.

  • Globalmouse
    February 24, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    Sounds like a great time. We love getting to live events, it’s such a great introduction to theatre and this sounds brilliant fun!

  • Vicky (@aroundandupsidedown)
    February 24, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    Great review Daddy D! Narcissistic chickens and elephant bottoms – sounds like my kind of show 🙂

  • Eileen Teo
    February 24, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    This is interesting. Not hear of her before. It is always good to know.

  • Charly Dove
    February 24, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    Oh how wonderful, sounds like Gwen really enjoyed it. The elephant bottom made me laugh only because POD has just realised hers had a hole in it (sorry!). A fabulous review from Daddy D 🙂

  • Kizzy
    February 25, 2014 at 5:31 am

    This sounds like a fantastic show, wish mine where a bit smaller, all too big for this kind of thing now 🙁

  • Emma (My Little 3 and Me)
    February 25, 2014 at 11:52 am

    I love Polly Dunbar! Lucky you, it sounds like a great event.

  • Emily @amummytoo
    February 25, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Sounds like a great event. The elephant bottom bit made me laugh 🙂


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