As the audience wandered into the Sweet Dukebox theatre for the start of Tales Michelle Madsen and Lizzy Margereson of BAIT were already standing by the seats, welcoming people warmly and having a little sashay to Grace Jones’s Slave the Rhythm. They were smiling and the audience was smiling before the show even started.
With brilliant pace and timing, these physical performers caper and play with wit and charm
And then we were off. Michelle and Lizzy took to the stage – and took off their tops. After several more beats, off came the rest of their clothing with a flick. Standing on stage in their workaday underwear, they certainly had the audience’s attention. But don’t get the wrong idea. This wasn’t some lewd striptease to titillate: it seemed simply a way to get down to the basics, a strip-down to prepare to take on character roles. And a way, perhaps, of turning on its head the way women taking off their clothes is usually portrayed. Indeed, questioning the status quo and poking at what our society expects of girls and women seems to be at the heart of this show.
Following this was a comedic routine of choosing a suitable costume from a clothes rail (used inventively for entrances and exits throughout the performance) and then the stories began. Here were versions of traditional myths and fairy-tales told with a modern twist. So, we heard about a young, beautiful maiden living in a land not far from the M25 who received an invitation to a free house party. Also, of a woodcutter so poor he couldn’t afford to feed his five daughters avocado smash for breakfast, thus prompting one daughter Belle to leave to find her fortune. A re-telling of Cinderella, the traditional one where Cinders has little control, was paralleled with a tale of a girl going to a Year 7 disco. There was the story of a woman with long hair trapped in a tower who is feeling just great (note the sarcasm) and another of hedonism, magic and rose thorns, as well as a young woman who saved her lover. We are told of a romantic encounter where the prince really is not so charming. And finally, a creation myth where she sweeps the dust from under her bed, cleans the dirt from under her nails and gets going.
Traditional tales, the stories we are told help to shape our understanding of our world. Yet often enough they portray people in limited ways which in turn can help to trap them in limited roles. Tales seriously challenges this but in the most ludicrously enjoyable way. With brilliant pace and timing, these physical performers caper and play with wit and charm. It was an absolute pleasure to spend an hour in their company.