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Angie Dight - Mischief-la-Bas and Nursery Crymes

When Mischief-la-Bas tell a story, it usually comes out a bit different to most other tall tales made flesh. The Glasgow-based interactive outdoors-based theatre company's long awaited take on nursery rhymes is no different. This should be apparent in Nursery Crymes, a brand new night time promenade performance, which explores the dark underbelly that lies at the heart of some of the world's best known children's stories.

With capacity for audiences of up to 400 in staggered groups, over two nights, Nursery Crymes will move through the back streets of Glasgow city centre. This will see those attending convene on King Street, before taking a trip into the depths of Mother Goose's forest. On an immersive on-set street created by artist/designer Bill Breckenridge, the so-called fun of the fair and other carnival headaches will be explored in the extravaganza of the F***ed-Up Fairground.

As the audience moves in, out and around four zones in the area roughly surrounding the Britannia Panopticon music hall, they will encounter a non-stop off-kilter cabaret of installations, performances, sound works, projections and films. These will be seen alongside warped versions of some familiar favourites twisted into more unexpected tales. Nursery Crymes, then, is most definitely not panto, as Mischief-la-bas director Angie Dight explains.

Nursery rhymes were really important in my childhood,” she says. “The first book I ever read was full of rhymes and pictures, and that really opened up my imagination, so to work on this project is really exciting, and rather than being about nursery rhymes themselves, we're looking at some of the things going on behind what you initially see. There's a dour, sinister and criminal element about a lot of nursery rhymes. On the surface, nursery rhymes look pretty and nice, but if you get beyond that, you very quickly realise that they're not really like that at all.

We're also looking at stories and culture in general, how stories are told and who's telling them. We're thinking about how, by telling those stories now, whether we're perpetuating some of the ideas and attitudes that come through these things that look attractive, but which really aren't. That sort of thing does condition you, and as a child, being told what to do by some kind of authority is as much about who's doing the telling as anything.”

Nursery Crymes will feature a host of artists drawn from a pool of Mischief-la-Bas fellow travellers and kindred spirits both on their doorstep and beyond. These include live artist Liz Aggis, who has created a new film and choreography which will be seen in the Britannia Panopticon, and will focus on a more sinful Cinderella than is normally depicted. Glasgow-based visual artist Fiona Robertson, meanwhile, looks at some of the more surreal aspects of nursery rhyme imagery in a tactile installation and film, Bad Sheep.

More nursery rhyme imagery will be seen in installations and projections presented by the Hastings-based collective, Radiator Arts. Audio visual artist Dav Bernard, best known for his work with the 85A company, will present Alouette (High Voltage), which will mix hi-tech live projections and soundscapes that link the everyday cruelty of children's songs to the ongoing use of torture in so-called civilised societies. Two pioneering companies, Glas(s) Performance and young people's company Junction 25, will join forces to present an evocative sound piece, good/bad/horrid, in an otherwise quiet lane.

With the after hours extravaganza featuring explorations of sexism, misogyny and torture, if all this sounds like a programme not for the faint-hearted, think again. Comedy is the back-bone of Mischief-la-Bas, and the company have made this sort of serious fun their raison d'etre since their inception in 1992. Since then, and with roots in alternative cabaret and street art, they have developed a repertoire of live installations and fantastical walkabouts which have travelled the world.

The idea and title for Nursery Crymes can be credited to the late Ian Smith, the free-thinking wunderkind who co-founded Mischief-la-Bas with Dight. Since then, the show has been in development for the last three years, as the country developed local and international partnerships which have now finally come together for Nursery Crymes. The range of space-based producers on board include MSL Projects, the community arts based Radiator Arts, the Glasgow-based UZ Arts, and IN SITU, the European network for creating art in public space.

The latter is key to Mischief-la-Bas' aesthetic philosophy. At a time when developers attempts to muscle in on public spaces are becoming increasingly apparent, the company's work has become an increasingly crucial counterblast of artistic expression. In this respect, Nursery Crymes, and indeed all of Mischief la Bas' outdoor activity, is about reclaiming public spaces in the face of private ownership, even if, in Scotland, the elements are sometimes against them.

For Mischief La Bas, doing our work outdoors is a really important thing to do,” says Dight. “We go to so many different spaces, and it's not just about saying to people that they should be able to do what they want in those spaces, but showing them the value of that space. Through that, we hope that people might get a better sense of what a space can be. It's about having ownership over public spaces and reimagining them. Yes, there's always the risk that the weather might be terrible, especially in Scotland, which can have four seasons in one day, but people in Scotland aren't scared of the weather in the way they are down south. I've seen shows in bad weather, and sometimes it adds something to it.”

Unlike most of Mischief-la-Bas' outdoor interventions, Nursery Crymes will be ticketed. The show nevertheless taps into an increasing wave of more participatory artforms, whereby audiences want something more than to merely sit in the dark as passive spectators. In this respect too, Mischief-la-Bas were way ahead of the current wave of immersive theatre makers who are treated in part by the mainstream as a novelty act by those who would rather their work wasn't taken seriously. Mischief-la-Bas and Nursery Crymes may be about having fun, but it is very much on the company's terms.

I'm really not interested in giving people everything on a plate,” says Dight. “We're inviting people to play, to bring a bit of joy and surrealism to the everyday, and to get people involved in those games. Even though it's ticketed, and people know they're coming, we still want them to play. So, rather than answering any questions that we ask, we'll provide the questions, but the audience will have to work out any answers for themselves. Not that it's going to be an intellectual thing. It should be quite visceral. People might be a little perplexed, but that's a good thing.”

Nursery Crymes, muster point at Avant Garde, King Street, Glasgow, November 25-26, with times staggered from 6pm.

The Herald, November 21st 2017



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