If you go down to Battersea today, you’re in for a big surprise. Or, to throw scansion to the winds but be more accurate, if you head down to BAC next Friday or Saturday you’re in for lots of surprises. nabokov arts is taking over the whole building for Fable, its second ‘Arts Club’; a night of theatre, performance art, music, dance, and much, much more. The theme for this Arts Club is “dark fables and twisted fairytales”, and Associate Producer Paul Jellis promises “magic, mystery, music and mayhem”. So if that sounds up your street…

“We want to capture that moment just before you fall asleep when anything could happen, when imagination takes over and stories are told. We’ve tried to mix this with the idea of fables where animals are personified, and a Bacchanalian-type sense of festivity,” says Jellis. There will be lots of walkabout performances, including a “very abstract” dance piece from dANTE or dIE; a new play by Jack Thorne; a new rock-opera version of Cinderella written by Arthur Darvill; and “an amazing band called King Porter Stomp – they are a big brass, heavy bass, jump-up-and-down festival band”. Add to that, an “opium den-feel in one of the bars, with lots of beds and dens; one performance space which is a total surprise; and a caberet and live music performance space”, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a party.

After developing the format (essentially a club night where theatre/performance is given top billing alongside DJs and bands) in a warehouse, nabokov seized the chance to move into BAC, where there is scope to programme much more adventurously – for a start, they can have more than one thing going on at any one time. They describe the night as “a massive live arts party”, inspired by all things fairytale. Joe Murphy, nabokov’s Artistic Director, calls it “the epitome of our ethos as a company – it’s a festival atmosphere, a fun night out and a quality artistic experience.” Formed about ten years ago at Sheffield University, nabokov was set up by George Perrin and James Grieve (who now run Paines Plough) as a new writing company, putting on theatre that they would want to see themselves. Murphy took over two years ago, and with slots at Latitude, award-winning shows and this new collaboration with BAC, the company is on the up.

Jellis explains that the Arts Club is a kind of casual form of audience development. “It’s become a way of developing a loyalty to the nabokov brand. We’ve been at the forefront of the theatre-at-festivals idea; we’re practically synonymous with the theatre tent at Latitude. It’s a way of finding people who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre but would go to a club night – you need to find a new way of doing things, a way of doing plays about them and the way they live their lives – not just Shakespeare.” Murphy agrees that this way of engaging new audiences is central: “come to Arts Club for a band, and then see a bit of theatre. If you like it, come to something else. It’s that transference of audience; how we get young audiences is important to the future of theatre. I see us as in direct competition with cinema and gigs.” Jellis expands on this: “In terms of marketing, especially with Arts Club, we know we have a theatre audience and that if we programme particular acts/companies we’ll get their audience, what we’re keen to do is to go outside that and reach people who are tuned into music or clubbing or whatever, which requires a slightly different approach.” The last Arts Cub, on Halloween last year, ended up as Critics’ Choice in Time Out – in the clubbing section.

Murphy says that as Arts Club develops, there are new challenges to overcome.“It’s not a piece of theatre; people might not enjoy the night if they have to queue for a beer for too long at the bar, which is not a normal ‘theatre’ problem.” Jellis agrees: “Programming this kind of event does mean relinquishing a bit of control, but if you’re clever with the way you programme it then you can sort of create a narrative – it’s more managed than a festival. You know that feeling on a night out when you leave your house and you feel that anything could happen? That’s the excitement we want to create: here is an amazing, beautiful building, so go and explore it. You don’t know what you’ll find – but we hope you’ll find a massive variety of exciting performers.”

nabokov’s Arts Club Fable is at BAC on Friday 2 and Saturday 3 March. Tickets and more information are available from BAC’s website.

Image credit: nabokov