Hag

[author-post-rating] (5/5 stars)

The Wrong Crowd has taken the folk-tale, child-eating witch, Baba Yaga, and given her a voice. And what a voice. Laura Cairns plays Baba Yaga, with a sniffing, questing, monstrous puppet-head constantly looking for her next snack. It’s all rather brilliant visually, thanks to Rachael Canning’s superlative design and puppets. With a wryly amusing script from Hannah Mulder (who also directs), the cast of four take the myth and give it an affectionate kicking – not only embellishing but also deepening the level at which is operates.

This is pure storytelling at its absolute best. Taking the well-worn tales and turning them on their head, the cast works a particular kind of magic that transports the audience into a world where child-eating witches are real, and talk to us. Baba Yaga herself is our wonderfully cantankerous narrator, telling us the story of the one who got away: a little girl called Lisa (Sarah Hoare). All the requisite elements are in place: we have an evil stepmother, a beleaguered heroine, an emotional journey intertwined with growing up, magic and the expected three tasks to perform, but performed with such verve and skill that it’s like seeing them for the first time.

Hag is about bravery and finding yourself and standing up to bullies, and all the typical fairytale morals. But, oh, it’s also about mothers and daughters, and about memory, and about letting go of the ones you love when they’re ready to go. And those bits really get you in the gut. As Baba Yaga says at the beginning of show, “I am calamity”, and The Wrong Crowd doesn’t shy away from the overtones of death and destruction – not just in the fact that Baba Yaga devours children with audience-pleasing relish but also in the darker, wider questions of loneliness and loss. It manages to touch on so many things, all wrapped up in a gloriously well-told story.

There are lighter moments, too. Tom McCall’s turn as a hilariously bureaucratic guardian of the underworld was a particular highlight, although he – and Theone Rashleigh who also plays multiple characters – is hugely watchable across the board. There’s a lot of humour in the piece, which makes a well-judged counterpart to the darker moments.

I’m finding it hard not to disappear into hyperbole here; suffice to say this show hit just the right note for me and I urge you to go and see it. It entertains, it delights, it made me laugh and it reduced me to tears. I left feeling both wrung out and elated – a complete gem of a show that reminded me why I love theatre.

Hag is at Underbelly as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information and tickets, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.