Words by Ed King / Pics Eleanor Sutcliffe
Open every day up to and including New Year’s Day, the Magic Lantern Festival is on display across Kings Heath Park – featuring a winter wonderland of structural illuminations, statues and fantastical storyscapes.
Suitable for adults, families and children of all ages, the Magic Lantern Festival in Kings Heath Park is accessible from 5pm to 10pm, with the last entry scheduled at 8:45pm. Tickets range from £5.50 to £14.85 (+bf) with concessions for groups, families and children under 16 years old – for direct event info, including online ticket sales, click here.
Returning to Birmingham for its second year, the Magic Lantern Festival has come back to the second city alongside concurrent displays in London, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow. Not to be confused with the ‘illuminated trail’ at the Botanical Gardens, the Magic Lantern Festival in Kings Heath Park presents ‘a spectacular fusion of dual culture, vibrant colours and artistic sculptures’ from a soaring phoenix to polar bears, flamingos and reindeer, all nestled in between elaborate and ‘hand crafted’ sculptures. Sounds like a press release, right?
I wasn’t sure what to believe either, having walked past the illuminated event several times throughout December – casting assumptions and assertions from the detached viewpoint of Avenue Road. The cynic in me thought it “all looks a little Disney”, so when I was invited to get a bit more up close and personal I enlisted the help of a friend and her seven year old daughter. If anyone is going to cut through the chintz, it’ll be them.
Plus, they had survived a rain drenched Botanical Garden’s display in 2016 so would be a useful yardstick; all it would cost me would be a trio of hot chocolates and one “flashing spinny thing” from the stalls at the entrance. A relative small price to pay for objective journalism.
We arrive at bang on 7pm, with Kings Heath Park already showing a healthy throng of customers. There’s a small queue underneath the bright Chinese gateway, one that makes the adults feel reassured but is still short enough for the child in our group to not notice. A trick Alton Towers has failed consistently to pull off on many a Hallmark holiday.
Led by the seven year old, we race (literally… and I lose) to the bright castle that is one of the first displays as you enter the park. Sparkling blue turrets sit across an impressively expansive fairytale structure, as I take a closer look at the Walt inspired illumination I have seen before from the road. This is where the cynic in me stops. It’s beautiful. I wouldn’t decorate my house in the same way, but against the pitch black of the park it shines triumphant, surrounded by a sporadic sea of toad stalls, orchids and lilies. As the seven year old goads me into another race across the grass, to more 2D illuminations of a Birmingham cityscape, facades and industrial icons (well, cogs) I stand somewhat aware my jaw has dropped. I honestly didn’t think it would look this good.
But it gets better. The aforementioned 2D displays aside, which both figuratively and literally pale in comparison to the 3D illuminations across the rest of the park, the Magic Lantern Festival is just that. Magic. Scenes depicting all you would expect from a Christmas display – including reindeer, polar bears, as well as the red and white St Nick – dot themselves around other elaborate illuminations with a more Eastern flavour.
As our panel of three start to score each display (think Strictly…) it becomes a tie between the huge phoenix rising from the flames to the beautiful temple of lilies. Although the family of reindeer and flamingos come in a close second. But all along the ‘lantern trail’ are colourful scenes of animals, flowers and the occasional mermaid or dwarf that each stand out with individual merit. OK, so it’s a little Disney.
And the layout, which I thought might be too disparate across the somewhat flat plateau that is the top of Kings Heath Park, works perfectly, with just enough space between each illumination and “a chance to really get up close to them, to walk around them and see them from all sides,” which I am informed was lacking a similar event last year at the Botanical Gardens.
At the end of the trail, we stop of at the small fun fair on the concrete car park near the parks’ Avenue Road entrance and successfully manage to distract our group’s youngest away from the Santa’s Grotto with a well placed inverted bungee. Nothing too dramatic or expensive, but a welcome addition to the main event.
And with the world’s friendliest event security (’tis a time for miracles) happy to let us wander about or even backtrack a little, we wind our leisurely way back to the entrance and some offensively priced hot chocolate – an overall score of 8.5 and “much better than last year at the Botanical Gardens” as the official result. Now, where’s that illuminated toy tout gone.
Magic Lantern Festival @ Kings Heath Park / Eleanor Sutcliffe – Birmingham Review
The Magic Lantern Festival runs daily in Kings Heath Park until 1st January 2018, accessible from 5pm. For more on the Magic Lantern Festival in Birmingham, including online ticket sales, visit www.magicallantern.uk/magical-lantern-festival-birmingham
For more on Kings Heath Park, visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/kingsheathpark