Edinburgh International Children’s Festival – Baba Yaga
***** (5 stars)
A wee grey mouselike person whose name badge reads ‘Vaselina’ stands at the reception desk of the Poultry Park Apartments, her rigid ‘can I help you?’ smile drooping and needing reinforcing with a finger. A large notice prohibiting noise, pets, unscheduled alterations, picnics, barbecues and just about everything else you can think of dominates the lobby, and the wee grey mouse hardly dares move. She tries to apply her lipstick, to write on a piece of paper, to use the sellotape dispenser: and each tiny noise is amplified a hundred times, causing angry residents to ‘shush’ her. She subsides into a silence which is broken by her tummy rumbling and gurgling: she looks longingly at a packet of crisps, but daren’t even think of opening the packet, let alone eating any. She tries peeling and eating a banana, but even that causes an outbreak of protest at the breaking of the silence.
Into this mausoleum stalks a giantess in a long, buttercup-yellow frock, with a Cossack hat which seems to be made of a shopping bag. She gives us a sinister look before taking the lift to the top floor, and soon thumping music shakes the building. All the residents ring Vaselina to complain – she must go up to the top floor and stop the noise AT ONCE. The wee grey mouse is terrified but, reminding herself that this is her job, nerves herself to go up and complain. On the way up, she hears sinister rumours about this resident – she has chicken’s legs, she files her teeth into points…
When Vaselina enters the flat, there is no sign of the woman, but suddenly she appears and announces that she is hungry – she is ALWAYS hungry – and thus begins Vaselina’s radical transformation at the hands of Baba Yaga. Undergoing hardships and being pushed to the limit, Vaselina finds her true self and realises her life’s ambition: the grey puffy anorak comes off and underneath is the skater she always yearned to be, in a gloriously shiny and be-sequinned costume in which she ski-jumps off the mountain peak and skates into her new life.
There are so many wonderful things about this show! I loved the extreme physical contrast between the two characters – one [Christine Johnston] tall, angular, brightly-coloured, scary, and powerful, very sure of herself and what she wants and the other [the amazing Shona Reppe] a wee, sleekit, cowran, tim’rous beastie who learns how to break free from the drab grey constricting shell she has been taught to erect around herself and achieve her heart’s desire – and the way each used physical comedy to express their character. Projection on eight separate screens of various sizes cleverly allowed the residents to complain, Baba Yaga’s magical transformations to take place, Vaselina’s inner thoughts to be shown, and the audience to be transported to the fabulous landscapes of Vaselina’s voyages of self-discovery.
This wonderful Scottish-Australian collaboration is clever, witty, inventive, brightly-coloured, ingenious, scary, and inspiring, with catchy music and songs and some very impressive disco-dancing. The young audience were held captive throughout, laughed a lot, and were very enthusiastic in their applause at the end. This was the perfect pick-me-up after last night’s goings-on in the graveyard in Mbuzeni, and a fabulous way in which to end my 2018 Edinburgh International Children’s Festival. Roll on 2019!
Edinburgh International Children’s Festival – Baba Yaga Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh run ends 3 June