Written by Roxanne Peron.
Adapted from the 2018 novel of the same name by Sophie Anderson (the author, not the other one), this piece is a heart-warming coming of age story that reminded me of the fantastical YA literature of my own youth. The cast of 6 did an amazing job of taking us on an adventure full of various colorful characters and thrilling twists. We follow the life of Marinka, a twelve-year-old girl who dreams of having a normal life…despite living in a house with chicken legs with her magical grandmother Baba Yaga, who has very different plans for her.
(Yes, it’s not a figurative title; it’s literally about a house with chicken legs.)
This story is based very loosely on the infamous character of Baba Yaga from Slavic folklore—a wild witch of a woman who holds control over death and regeneration. However, if you are expecting to see her as she is typical represented—a fearsome old crone who sucks on children’s bones—you’re in for a surprise. In this adaptation, Baba Yaga is portrayed as a kind and caring grandmother who tries patiently to teach young Marinka what she needs to know in order to be able to take over the family business: guiding the dead back to the stars.
The story focuses on the Yagas, guardians of the gate to “the other side” who are tasked with helping the dead transition to the afterlife. The gates are found in their Yaga Houses, which have chicken legs and move around randomly and regularly. This makes for a lonely life for Marinka, who longs for the company of the living and to make a friend. She thinks this is impossible, until she meets a young boy named Ben, who also feels like an outsider. This relief is short-lived, however, as the house moves in the night and takes her and her Baba far away once more.
The play takes a strange twist in the second act. Possibly to make sure that the audience was still awake, possibly to add humour, possibly for the kids… The “Yaga Houses” have the party, for which the actors don chicken legs and wear houses on their heads while dancing around playing instruments in a rock-show-like musical number. In any case, it seemed to be hit and miss with the audience, with some loving it and clapping along ands other sat in awkward silence, even if the actors did an excellent job of selling it.
The piece had lovely and impressive musical numbers, with all members of the cast playing various musical instruments live on stage throughout the performance. The instruments also served regularly throughout the show, as music was used as the language of the dead—a beautiful and poetic element. Additionally, the show demonstrated very creative methods of artistic expression. Certain scenes that would have been difficult to act out on stage, such as boating down a canal or swimming in the sea, were rendered through an elegant and synchronized use of puppets. Marinka’s fantastical journey through the gate was also animated and projected on scene to provide a fuller representation of her trek through an ocean and up ice mountains than would have been possible with a set.
The actors were also very impressive. Eve De Leon Allen made an excellent Marinka, convincing me that every one of her many emotional states was genuine; Lisa Howard was quite the presence on stage as Baba, with her physical acting bringing a added dimension to her character; David Fallon expertly made me feel the awkwardness of Ben; Keshini Misha truly seemed to become a twelve-year-old girl with her enthusiastic and expressive acting as Nina; and Pérola Congo had not only an amazing voice when signing but also seemed to fit so naturally on stage due to the ease and confidence with which she played Tatiana. I also need to give an honorable mention to Matthew Burns for his role as Jack, the jackdaw, for all the squatting and sprinting he did on stage when manipulating the bird puppet with astounding lifelikeness—his quads must have had quite the workout!
All in all, it was a lovely piece, and though oriented towards a younger audience, it has a beautiful message about finding yourself, how death fits into the great cycle of life, and how you are never truly alone. I would encourage anyone with tweens or young teens to bring them to see the show, as it has outstanding messaging for young people. However, anyone—young or not-so-young—would be guaranteed to enjoy (and take something from) the touching production.
The House with Chicken Legs plays at HOME (Theatre 1) until 22nd April.