Something wicked this way comes

If you go down to the woods at night, you might be part of the Painful Creatures 'freak show'
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The Independent Culture

It is a show that takes its audience for a walk in the woods, on a bizarre journey through installations that feature snake-haired Gorgons, punctured saints, dangling tree spirits, wrecked galleons and pig-eating robots.

It is a show that takes its audience for a walk in the woods, on a bizarre journey through installations that feature snake-haired Gorgons, punctured saints, dangling tree spirits, wrecked galleons and pig-eating robots.

Painful Creatures, a "highly imaginative freak show" in Grange Park, in Kilburn, north London, has been devised by Ian Smith, the artistic director of Mischief La-Bas, an interactive walkabout performance company devoted to "gently warping the underlay of the fabric of society". The group puts on about 200 performances a year in public spaces. Now Smith has brought together 20 of his core performers, along with 10 international artists and a squad of local players, to "celebrate the delights of pain".

Smith says: "The show begins at twilight, that time of the evening when nothing is quite as it seems. Those who experience these haunting scenes - they'll be greeted by gruff 'carnie' folk [carnival workers] dressed in tattered coats and carrying bull-whips - will find it a difficult experience to shake off."

Painful Creatures was commissioned for the Big In Falkirk festival in May 2003. The show was later awarded a grant from the European body In-situ and toured Europe. The shows at Kilburn will be the last of the year. "We are Scotland's most peculiar export," says Smith, who was one of the founders in 1992 of the Glasgow-based company, most of whose performers are Scottish.

This sinister walk will lead you to an audience with Empress Stah, a self-confessed "piercing freak", who usually works at the London club Torture Garden. Here, she plays a Gorgon, pierced by needles and trapped inside a peep show. Two large, grotesque puppets, created by Alex Rigg, come down from trees and seem to attack two performers below, who look like unsuspecting members of the public out for a picnic. "The performers are operating the puppets from the puppets' feet, but it looks as if they are being attacked from above," Smith says.

Guyan Porter's Field of Heads - 100 plaster heads on stakes - is a "beautiful and tranquil image reminiscent of a graveyard". There are people stitched into frames, and you are invited to shoot arrows at a reconstruction of St Sebastian bound to a tree.

The performance artist Lisa Watts has a curious piece. "She is dressed in a black outfit, impenetrable in the gloom, and her buttocks are illuminated by a lighting system inside her costume - and with two bear-claws that grip her behind, her buttocks float around the wood, all lit up," Smith says.

The walk will end with the sacrificial burning of a 30ft high wicker man, created by Rigg. "A mechanical puppet, beautifully sculpted out of basket work, is winched up to sit on top of a high pyre and set alight," Smith says.

Smith, who has been involved with live performance for 25 years, has high hopes for this venture from Mischief La-Bas. "I hope it will broaden people's horizons, while also showing how art and theatre can be mixed successfully in a public space," he says.

'Painful Creatures', Grange Park, Kilburn High Road, London NW6 (020-7974 4590), 3 and 4 September, 9pm

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