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Review: Baba Yaga at the Adelaide Festival

By Lisa Lanzi

In Slavic myths, Baba Yaga is the wild woman or dark lady of magic and in Russian folklore there are many stories about her. Adelaide’s own Windmill Theatre and Director Rosemary Myers have collaborated with Christine Johnston (The Kransky Sisters) and Shona Reppe (Scotland) to create and present this production for ages seven to twelve.

The eerie foyer at The Queen’s Theatre (the oldest theatre in mainland Australia) is a fantastical space designed by Adelaide artist Fleur Elise Noble - a veritable wonderland for children to explore even before they see the performance.

This is a life-affirming tale with a few old but wise chestnuts sprinkled throughout: “sometimes you’ve got to lose yourself to find yourself” and “you can’t make an omelette without breaking an egg” to “If you follow all the rules, you miss out on all the fun”. Elizabeth Hay is delightful as Vaselina, a mousey grey-parka-wearing receptionist at Poultry Park Apartments who is bullied mercilessly by the residents and where RULES forbid pretty much anything that might cause joy. Vaselina (Vasilisa the Fair in the original tale) is forced into facing off the terrifying Madame B Yaga in the penthouse. The older woman is vilified by the other residents for being too loud, having pets and making merry. They may well have objected to her musical saw-playing also, but the audience was entranced!

Christine Johnston graces the stage as a magnificent Baba Yaga in mustard attire, brightly coloured pompom necklace and garish makeup with a shopping tote for a hat - superb costuming designed and realised by Selene Cochrane. This character is presumed evil but has many wise and wonderful ways about her, not least her magnificent repertoire of bird calls and the talent of playing two recorders at once - with her nose. This all bodes well for Vaselina as Madam B Yaga takes her under her wing on a journey of self-realisation… or … might she simply be ‘fattening’ up the younger woman as a meal for the always hungry Madam who can transform into many creatures!

As with previous Windmill Theatre works the production values are extraordinary. We are treated to whimsical animations by Chris Edser to complement the live action. An original soundscape by Peter Nelson partners and enriches the narrative and the two actors are vocally excellent in their demanding roles. I did ask a nine year old friend what her favourite part was. Her answer told of Vaselina’s frantic escape down the mountainside which had Elizabeth Hay ‘skiing’ and ‘ice-skating’ in front of an animated ski field with convincing movement created by choreographic consultant Carol Wellman Kelly.

Baba Yaga gently takes a peek at breaking your own boundaries and achieving your dreams. It also touches on the relationship of old and young and how older generations can benefit youth even if at times they don’t quite understand each other and their differences seem a little terrifying. A faultless production to excite and fascinate the younger people in your life.

Photo Credit: Rob McDougall

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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