Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Theatre Alba present their adaptation of the Russian tale “Baba Yaga and the Girl with the Kind Heart” in the beautiful gardens of Duddingston Kirk. Nestling next to Salisbury Crags this bewitching tale is set against a backdrop that actually has squirrels and rabbits scampering freely around. Anya, played by Liz Strange, is the young naive maiden who is sent on a ruse by her wicked stepmother to meet her fate at the hands of the witch Baba Yaga. The kindness of Anya’s heart is the trait that encourages the animals she meets on her journey to rally round and protect her from the evil sorceress.
Anya lives in a cottage in the forest with her father and shrewish stepmother. The Stepmother is constantly finding fault with young Anya and hatches a plan to rid herself of the cumbersome child. She sends her alone into the dangerous forest, with a basket of provisions on a futile errand to meet her sister Baba Yaga. On her journey she meets a mouse who gives her magical advice and, then in turn, a dog and cat, who reveal they are held in slavery by the witch. As Anya shows the animals kindness they befriend her and promise to help her if she ever needs them. When she eventually meets the witch, the animals help her to thwart the witch’s evil plan and she returns safely to her father.
Theatre Alba are renowned for their theatrical settings in beautiful gardens and again they don’t disappoint. Written and directed by Clunie Mackenzie, the enchantment begins almost instantly as Anya takes the entire audience with her to different settings around the large mature gardens. With someone to meet or something to discover at various points, the children are constantly involved with the tale. The secret to entertaining children is never to stop for too long, and the simplicity of the story allows for the time it takes to move around the garden. Helen Cuinn is perfectly cast as Baba Yaga, with sticks poking out at odd angles from her wild fiery red hair. She plays the scheming hag with conviction and pushes the plot along nicely. The children in the audience boo and hiss at her, but are never too scared. The cast play multiple roles to bring the story to life and a sympathetic musical accompaniment on accordion and guitar tastefully adds to the characters’ songs.
The weather is kind to us on the day that I am there, allowing the loch glistening behind to play its part in the story, but that’s the kind of risk that Theatre Alba must be used to by now. It’s also almost a full audience and only slightly clunky when they try to get everyone into position quickly to keep the drama moving, therefore anyone who is tad slow may miss the beginning of the dialogue. Nevertheless, Baba Yaga is a great story and Theatre Alba does it justice. I heard several children telling their parents how much they were enjoying themselves. I have to admit that it’s at times like this when I wish I was still a child too.