Baba Yaga (And The Girl With The Kind Heart)

Aug 5 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩    Spine tingling

Duddingston Kirk Manse Gardens (Venue 121): Mon 3 – Sun 16 Aug 2015

Magnificently malevolent when it needs to be, Theatre Alba’s take on the great Russian folk tale Baba Yaga thrills and frightens in equal measure as it promenades round Dr Neil’s Garden in Duddingston.

Drawing their young audience straight into the play, there’s vibrant enthusiasm to the five-strong company. They are led from the front by bright-eyed and endearing Catriona McFarlane as Anya, the girl with the kind heart.

Robert Williamson (Ivan) and Catriona McFarlane (Anya). Photo Theatre Alba

Robert Williamson (Ivan) and Catriona McFarlane (Anya). Photo Theatre Alba

McFarlane’s Anya is kind-hearted enough to make her interactions with magically talking animals believable. But a fresh and invigorating performance ensures that she is never cloyingly so – while her audience interaction creates an easy, semi-permeable fourth wall.

If Robert Williamson doesn’t really get a chance to establish the character of Anya’s doting but misguided Father, he more than makes up for it when moves over to the role of Ivan the Storyteller.

It’s his gentle guitar music and vocal interjections which accompany the audience on their adventure through the gardens when Anya is sent off by her wicked stepmother to borrow a needle and thread from her new aunt – Baba Yaga.

Before the bone-grinding, children-eating witch is discovered, however, Anya has to find her friends as she wanders through the forest. Amy Conway has a nicely physical presence as both the mouse Moosikins, who helps her (and the audience) find helpful items on her way, and cat Meeowshka, an enslaved servant to Baba Yaga who is found mourning her lot in song, in a secluded and surprisingly wind-free corner of the garden.

all the best puns

Frank Skelly has great time as the self-important, fearty, growling-but-not-quite-meaning-it guard dog Barkovski. It’s in this role that writer and director Clunie Mackenzie has found the most fun for older audience members, giving Skelly a wonderfully complex character and all the best puns.

Andrea McKenzie (Baba Yaga) and Robert Williamson (Ivan). Photo Theatre Alba

Andrea McKenzie (Baba Yaga) and Robert Williamson (Ivan). Photo Theatre Alba

But it is in Andrea McKenzie that the company has their standout performance. She gives the stepmother a really vicious undertone of  malevolence from the moment she steps onto the stage, immediately ensuring that any wayward cynics in the audience move straight over to Anya’s side.

When she returns as the witch herself, it is easy to imagine that she is still picking the sinews of her last toddler from her teeth. Without being over-the-top about it, or indeed going into the realms of real nightmare, she fizzles with dark forces and storm-bringing nastiness.

Her demise – with plenty of audience help, is perhaps a bit too easily won in the end, but there is more than enough getting there and running through the forest to compensate.

Andrea McKenzie’s epitomisation of nastiness is vital to make the production work. Clunie Mackenzie’s adherence to the spirit of her original material is strong and the real fear which she draws down is one of hunger, which is present as a threat at every turn of the plot but which doesn’t carry the same weight to a well-fed Edinburgh fringe audience as it might in less affluent societies or times.

The whole is great fun, though. A spine-chilling production, perfect for three to ten year-olds, which makes knowledgeable use of one of Edinburgh’s most beautiful performance spaces.

Running time 55 mins
Duddingston Kirk Manse Gardens (Venue 121), Old Church Lane, EH15 3PX
Monday 3 – Sunday 16 August, 2015
Daily: 2.30pm
Book tickets on the EdFringe website:
Theatre Alba website:

*NB: Public transport to the venue is disrupted this week, due to finish on Friday 7, with Lothian Region’s 42 bus diverted due to roadworks. Recommended buses are now 4, 44, 104 or 113  to Duddingston Mill, then walk to venue along Duddingston Rd West.


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