Baba Yaga is a character featuring in folk tales from most European cultural traditions; a grotesque old woman who eats children then retains their skulls for macabre light fittings. The Wrong Crowd presents a lively take on this legend, telling the tale of the only child, Lisa, who has ever managed to escape the jaws of the hag. This Baba Yaga is Scottish, linking the Celtic vernacular tradition to its European contemporary - a fine touch.
The masks in Hag are exquisite, particularly that of Baba Yaga herself who looks like a terrifying haggis; if haggises had rows of discoloured molars perfect for child munching. If Yaga is a relation to Hansel & Gretel’s gingerbread hag, Lisa’s stepsisters have walked straight out of Cinderella via Dame Edna - if the bouncing curls and diamante cat-eye spectacles are any indication.
Hag is a deliciously dark bit of storytelling, the suppleness of the tale is evident in the way the audience can cower in horror and in the next instant be laughing at some wry truism. ‘I shall always keep you safe’, promises Lisa’s mother to her daughter, ‘What a lovely sentiment’, snarks Yaga in her dry lowlands brogue. Laura Cairns embodies the role of Baba Yaga with reptilian physicality, scuttling around the stage like Kafka’s beetle. The offal-ey looking mask is strapped onto Cairns right hand, the base of it joined onto a ‘spine’ affixed to Cairns’ back, enabling unsettling dexterity of movement.
Sarah Hoare’s Lisa is a wide-eyed, innocent, yet refreshingly ballsy heroine who beats up the Ugly Stepsisters when they’re mean to her and outwits Yaga at every turn. She was far more satisfying to root for than the traditional milksop female protagonists of the genre.
The denouement of the show features a delicately harmonised folk song ‘Oh for a home under the ground’ as Lisa buries the skull of one of Yaga’s child victims, reaching closure for her ordeal and achieving peace. It is a beautifully eerie finale to this sophisticated re-imagining of a familiar folktale.