Baba Yaga and the Girl with the Kind Heart

Mon 3rd – Sun 16th August 2015

reviews

Ben Driscoll

at 10:18 on 14th Aug 2015

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Located in Duddingston Kirk Manse Gardens, just below the looming relief of Arthur’s Seat, the city of Edinburgh is hidden from vantage point. It’s a completely unique location, and in the strange occurrence of great sunshine, it exuded a tranquility that cannot seem to occur within the city.

The venue is itself idyllic; Baba Yaga’s area of staging is a few rows of outdoor seating surrounded by small marquees on a neat lawn. Out from behind one of the marquees comes the sound of guitar strings and Russian folk music. The five man cast soon bound into view and the show begins.

Baba Yaga is a Russian folktale that reads quite like Hansel and Gretel: innocence triumphs over cannibalistic evil in a magical forest – but Baba Yaga teaches us more to be helpful and giving with our friends than most fairytales.

Despised by her stepmother, Anya (Catriona McFarlane) is ordered to go to visit her step-aunt in the depths of the forest, who turns out to be the infamous child-eater Baba Yaga of her father’s stories. Terrified, she enlists the help of storyteller/fourth wall breaker Ivan (Robert Williamson) and also the audience, consisting mainly of feverish children.

Described as a ‘promenade production’, the real joy of Baba Yaga is the ensuing journey of interactive discovery through the forest, which is a beautifully cultivated and colourful garden. Following the characters around to the folky marching tunes on small paths, everyone pausing briefly to shout ‘Hoi!’ is probably the most Russian Baba Yaga gets.

Using up the whole space of the garden, McFarlane tasks the children to help her find Baba Yaga, and on the way, they meet a variety of different animals, which she befriends. Barkovski the guard dog (Frank Skelly) is a favourite amongst everyone, with his dry mutterings, whilst the arrival of Baba Yaga (Andrea McKenzie) comes with gleeful screams from the children.

By this time, Anya, has now gained the adoration of all the children and has amassed a circle of them around her like the Pied Piper. When she rests a bit more responsibility on them, the children speak up in Anya’s defence. Though screaming McKenzie steals the show, the children stick to the morally right side of the story.

Having mustered this new gumption, what the children come out with is enchantingly hilarious. Pointing to a handkerchief caught up in ivy, Anya asks what it is: “It’s probably just rubbish” says one dismissively.

Though it could have done with more child participation, Baba Yaga kept the children quaking with anticipation. It is a unique play that ignites the imagination in a stunning venue. It’s a perfect show to catch when the sun’s out.

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Bethan Roberts

at 10:29 on 14th Aug 2015

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The plot of Theatre Alba’s Baba Yaga And The Girl With The Kind Heart is classic fairy-tale fare – an evil stepmother, a plucky heroine, amusing animal companions – familiar ingredients that nonetheless come together to tell a fun and engaging story. The tale’s relative obscurity in comparison to Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty et al ensures that there will be surprises in store – important in a show which relies on the audience to help but would lose some of the fun if they knew exactly what would happen and what to do next. The location for the show couldn’t be more perfect; Duddingston Kirk Manse Gardens bring the story’s locations alive, allowing the audience of young children to really participate in the adventure.

There are many opportunities for the audience to offer heroine Anya (Catriona McFarlane) their help, and help they most certainly do, sometimes even a little too much. The real star of the performance was arguably one small girl whose determination to upstage the cast was unwavering, amusing, and perhaps inevitable, although maybe the planning stages of the show could have factored in more strategies for keeping children engaged without letting them take away too much control from the actors.

Reviewing a show designed for children is difficult given that – despite Baba Yaga calling me a ‘smelly overgrown child’ (showing however evil she may be, she’s still a keen judge of character) – I am far from the target audience. Although the intended audience of the show – a gaggle of excited kids – did seem to thoroughly enjoy themselves.

The acting and story were charming enough, but there wasn’t a tremendous amount for the grown-ups in the audience beyond the children’s investment in the story being admittedly very sweet. The show was reminiscent at times of children’s party entertainment, which, whilst not necessarily a bad thing, does reflect the play’s status as entertainment for little ones rather than the whole family.

If you’re a child below the age of ten, I’m sure you’ll love this fun, funny, and scary (but not too much) performance. Children below the age of ten also probably won’t be perusing this review, and therefore this article’s readers will probably find this show isn’t really for them. Baba Yaga sets out to engage a young audience, and accomplished its goal even though it did not surpass it.

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