When I was a wee girl, my Grandad would tell us all stories straight out of his beautiful head – no books, no pictures, just glorious ever changing fairytales full of thick Scottish accents, strange sound effects and a never-ending supply of imagination. I think this is why I have always loved the soft, unspoken magic that comes with the live retelling of a great story. Whether gathered round a central figure or watching a show unravel on stage, there is something extra-special about folklore passed on by word of mouth.
I’m not really a stickler for ‘traditions’ but I do take my role as the family storyteller seriously and I am determined to pass it on to the next generation. I believe passionately that a love of storytelling is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child - especially in today's fast paced digital world which seems to be so full of screens I wonder if they understand we're three dimensional people!
And so it was when Horsecross asked Small City if we’d like to come along to review Baba Yaga, I was first in line with my 11-year-old twin nieces in tow. Afterall, what better to do on a Wednesday evening than sit in a dark theatre watching on in wonder as an old Russian folktale is brought to life by a trio of Scottish and Australian women? Nothing - that's what!
Baba Yaga has been co-created by director Rosemary Myers and two unique and celebrated artists from opposite ends of the globe; Shona Reppe (The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean, Cinderella - Scotland) and Christine Johnston (Fluff, The Kransky Sisters - Australia).
It was pitched as ‘an uproarious musical journey and a fun look at the traditional Russian folklore tale with a modern surrealist twist’ but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it was all of that and so, so much more!
Our heroine is Vaselina, who lives a quiet life as a receptionist in a block of flats where rules are everything. The loudest sound to be heard of a day is the pop of her lipsalve lid and squeak of the polishing when she rubs at the head of her beloved Russian Doll. Her world turns upside down when she is forced to confront the gregarious Baba Yaga, a woman who plays her music loudly, keeps pink cats and plays recorder with her nose!
The production is held in the intimate surroundings of the Joan Knight Studio and we are met with a floor level stage complete with spaceage looking geometric shapes. We're soon to realise these are actually screens and as we wait for our actors to arrive, a sole caterpiller makes her way from circle to square and back again. The girls are immediately hooked.
It is a loud whirlwind of folklore and fantasy that will bring a bumperful of joy into your life. The opening scenes are quiet, with Vaselina accompanied only by a huge board of rules, a roll of noisy sellotape and her Russian Doll. The two woman team is supported by a cast of complaining faces, dotted randomly across the screens. This brilliantly clever production technique rolls out further as the story unfolds and merges the digital-age that its primary audience understands and engages with so readily, with the folklore of old. It is done seamlessly and as the high pitched, electronic sound effects ring out across the audience, there is laughter from children and adults in equal measure.
The story builds to a gallop quite quickly and with gloriously outlandish costumes - teddy bear stole anyone? No? Sequinned jogging suit? Maybe? - catchy tunes and that exciting merging of digital age and traditional fable, they have the entire audience grinning from ear to ear.
As the gregarious Baba Yaga coaxes timid Vaselina from her cocoon the moral of the story begins to become apparent. "You cannot make an omlette without breaking an egg." An important message in a world where conformity seems to be stepping on the toes of imaginaton more and more.
We loved this production; I left the studo with a ridiculously wide grin on my face, and as I turned round to ask the girls what they'd thought I could see they were wearing matching smiles! It is a loud whirlwind of folklore and fantasy that will bring a bumperful of joy into your life. Go, enjoy and unleash your inner skating star!
Meet The Baba Yaga Team:
Rosemary Myers, Director and co-creator
Under Rose’s leadership as Artistic Director, Windmill creates and presents work inspired by the vibrancy, sophistication and inventiveness of young people and the exhilarating challenges they pose to creating theatre of relevance in this modern time.
Christine Johnston, Performer and co-creator
Christine is an Australian performing artist, writer and singer who became known on the Brisbane arts and live music scenes from the late 1980s for her dramatic visual performances combining music, voice and her signature style of humour.
Shona Reppe, Performer and co-creator
Shona is an award winning artist with an excellent track record of producing high quality, challenging theatre with high production values. She established Shona Reppe Puppets in 1996 (now simply Shona Reppe). Both her award-winning theatre shows for children and her collaborative design work have toured extensively throughout Scotland and internationally.
Following the festival premiere and a tour of Scotland in May 2018, Baba Yaga will make its way to Adelaide in 2019 and is expected to have a long national and international touring life.
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