Why is it that there are no known female art forgers? More than that, why is that the work of great female artists, from Frida Kahlo and Elizabeth Frink to Cindy Sherman and Tracey Emin, has rarely if ever been forged?
These are the questions that Brave Bold Drama theatre company set out to answer in their latest family show, The Mexico Mission, developed in part at Lighthouse as part of the Sanctuary summer residency programme.
The production is the latest from the company’s top secret multi-form global creative agency, the Company of International Artists, that’s dedicated to solving art mysteries and follows in the sleuthful footsteps of its previous shows The Munch Mission and The Midnight Mission, both of which played to sold out houses at Lighthouse.
“This time we’re investigating forgery and riffing on the tropes of film trilogies,” explains artistic director Gill Simmons. “Munch looked at art heists and played with film noir tropes and Midnight was about plagiarism and echoed Hammer horror film tropes, so this new show is very much in that vein.”
Like the two previous Missions, this new show will also be ‘playable’ with an interactive element that enables the audience to decide the direction the play takes, from which lines of enquiry the agents should pursue to who should be considered a suspect, by showing a handheld paddle painted black on one side and white on the other.
“It’s very lo-fi, but each time we ask for direction there’s a choice of two outcomes,” says Creative Producer Paul Lawless. “Then it’s up to me to count them, which can be tricky in the middle of a show, so we’ve got some funding to develop a simple app for when we tour this production – the responses feed into a single master device.”
Previously, each show has had six possible routes, each with its own script and props, all of which have to be learned and honoured in line with the instruction. The command of the detail and the sheer hard work involved are cornerstone of Brave Bold Drama’s ethos.
“That the show is ‘playable’ is not a gimmick’” adds Gill. “If you’re going to make family theatre that’s substantial, nuanced and doesn’t patronise its audience, you have to put the work in and it starts here in development.
“We believe in giving literal agency to our young audiences and they are in-role as Creative Agents of the Company of International Artists when they enter the space, so it is then logical that within that world, as Agents on an equal footing with the like the core characters of Agents Kahlo and Dali, they would have a say in how the mission is conducted by voting to express their preferences.
“We route-map every performance to make sure we’re not weighting any of the responses and with improvised sections it’s true that no two performances are ever the same. We’re finding now that we’re getting audiences returning to the shows to see how other outcomes play out.”
That they’ve been able to do this work in a professional environment away from their home base in Bristol has proved invaluable on several layers, according to Paul.
“The endorsement from Lighthouse is amazing,” he reveals. “It adds enormous kudos to what we’re doing that an organisation as highly regarded as this is willing to back us, book us and rebook us is hugely significant – it adds weight and as a direct result of that connection we have been able to get better bookings.
“Also, I grew up in Weymouth and at that time I never felt there was an arts ecology that I could find a way to be part of, so to have an arts organisation so close to home offering this support so visibly shows there’s a route into the arts, it really helps put Dorset on the map.”
Find out more about Brave Bold Drama at bravebolddrama.co.uk.