Ring a ring o’ roses, a pocket full of posies…
Blending educational anecdotes with magic tricks, Tracy is an amiable and charming entertainer.
Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water…
No matter how many years it’s been since you last sang these nursery rhymes, I’m sure you can easily sing the rest. After all, hours and hours of repeated chanting has a way of drilling itself into your brain. But did you know that most nursery rhymes have dark origins? Used as short and snappy ways of spreading stories of murder, sickness and tragedy for generations, although the original meanings may have been lost, the bare bones of the words live on in playgrounds around the world.
Introducing us to these nasty backstories is our host, Tracy Wise. Blending educational anecdotes with magic tricks, Tracy is an amiable and charming entertainer. It’s a shame that she didn’t start the show with a brief introduction to herself; I would have loved to learn more about the research she’s undertaken and what initially led her to investigate this particular dark avenue. Tracy’s gentle performance style meant that she was particularly adept at involving the audience with both the rhymes and the tricks in a way that meant the audience felt comfortable rather than put upon. However, her nervous enthusiasm did occasionally lead to errors, such as a slip of the tongue that mixed up Bloody Mary and Mary Queen of Scots, which was a little distracting. Mixing in illusions also occasionally undermined the academic information; when you’re always doubting what is in front of your eyes that doubt sometimes extends to the stories you’re hearing. A highlight of the show involved the Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush rhyme. During this section, Tracy expertly led us into a calm frame of mind and the results were impressive, although I wish that she could have worked out a way that the rest of the audience could have been more involved with the trick as only those very close to the front could see the cards. The staging was kept very simple, but I think it would have benefitted from some more ambient lighting to really ramp up the spooky pre-Halloween atmosphere.
As the show strayed into fairytale territory, I also would have liked it to stay solely focused on nursery rhymes. Fairytales have their own rich history, worthy of their own hour, and there are plenty of nursery rhymes that deserved to have their time. What about Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, perhaps thought to have originated from a tax on wool? Or perhaps Goosey, Goosey Gander, which could be about Catholic priests forced to hide in priest holes? There’s more than enough nursery rhyme material worth exploring further.
Overall, it was a pleasant enough (if that’s the right word?) afternoon’s entertainment. Everyone left both a little bit astonished and a little bit more informed about the sinister history behind their childhood chants. In its current form, Nursery Crimes doesn’t have the pace to fully engage throughout its hour running time. However, it’s a strong concept and with further development this show could become a dark delight.