The tales of the Baba Yaga, best known in Slavic folk and fairy tale traditions, are full of rich story material, and Laura Lindow’s new play for Theatre Hullabaloo and Theatre Porto reimagines the best elements of these to present a dark, fairytale world where the children’s bravery and ingenuity ultimately triumphs.
The journey of two children, Girl (Fran Burgoyne) and Boy (Ben Galpin), and their search for safety, resonates strongly with current times as they encounter a town which refuses to let them in, knowing that as a result they are almost certainly sending them into terrible danger. However, whilst there is a moral message at the heart of this piece, directed by Nina Hajiyianni and produced by Miranda Thain, about our collective responsibility to look after the most vulnerable, it also recognised the age of its target audience is six and above, and the need for it to work on corresponding levels.
Burgoyne and Galpin are both energetic and likeable performers who engaged quickly with the audience and in particular its younger members whose laughter is often the best indicator of success as they clearly enjoyed the opening slapstick, finger puppetry and mime.
Bek Palmer’s multi-purpose set design was impressive with props purposefully doubling up with the aid of some inspired imagination as the on-stage journey unfolded through town and forest before landing upon the chicken leg home of the as yet unrealised Baba Yaga.
Musical interludes from composer Patrick Dineen supported the unfolding action on stage with other characters brought to life through puppetry and mime with Burgoyne and Galpin adding the necessary voicings and often interchangeably.
With the story being what it was it also delivered the necessary scare which was perfectly balanced for the younger members of the audience whose retreat under an arm or moving onto the knee of a parent provided the necessary comfort with no one in tears.
I do wonder if there was greater opportunity for interaction with younger audience members at the beginning, whilst references to crashing plates would have been better seen and heard or perhaps created by claps from the audience. Burgoyne’s temporary transition into Baba Yaga was visually impressive but way too brief and I felt lighting designer Will Evans missed an opportunity to reflect the hundred eyes watching over the children from the town.
At just an hour in length, this production harks back well to the original timeless fairy tales emanating from central and eastern Europe, promoting good moral behaviour to overcome the danger of darkness, and certainly provided much food for thought for older audience members.
Theatre Porto has been making work for children, young people, and the communities of Ellesmere Port for over 35 years, and in August 2022, opened a brand new, specialist theatre and cultural hub in Whitby Park. Further details https://theatreporto.org/
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 10th October 2023
North West End UK Rating: