Hannah Mulder - Writer/Director
The Wrong Crowd
Soho Theatre Upstairs

HAG Credit: Richard Davenport
Sarah Hoare Credit: Richard Davenport

Straight from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it won a Herald Angel Award, The Wrong Crowd’s production of HAG is an imaginative and compelling piece of storytelling theatre, perfect for the vibrancy of the Soho Theatre.

HAG tells the tale of Baba Yaga (Laura Cairns): a child-eating witch from Slavic folklore, who meets her match in the form of a young girl, Lisa (Sarah Hoare).

When Lisa’s widowed father remarries, she is stuck with a manipulative stepmother and her devious daughters. After being sent away by her stepsisters, Lisa stumbles across Baba Yaga’s hut in the forest. Whilst there, Lisa must undertake challenges in order to keep her life and recapture what she has lost.

All the expected components of a classic folktale are present: a forlorn heroine, a cruel stepfamily, and a coming-of-age journey. However, there is a freshness in Hannah Mulder’s poetic script and Rachael Canning’s design that removes any chance of the story feeling tired.

The acting space is marked out by a series of hanging skulls that light up when required. A mound of rags and broken wood, resembling a tree stump, effectively create a morbid and sinister atmosphere, which is furthered by eerie, forest-like sound effects.

HAG’s charm lies the wonderful interplay between human and puppet. The use of puppetry often runs the risk of appearing awkward and tacky, yet, as proved by recent shows War Horse and Avenue Q, this does not always have to be the case. Here, they are cleverly woven together and it is obvious that a lot of time and effort has gone into perfecting their movements, particularly seen in the magic little doll given to Lisa by her mother on her deathbed.

There is much darkness to be found in the production, primarily in Baba Yaga. Cairns effortlessly operates a withered, skull-like mask with spiky hair, whilst wielding a long, clawed hand, encapsulating the bleak nature of her character.

Equally, there is much humour to be found in Baba Yaga’s lyrical description of her dismembering of children’s bodies. Cairns is eloquent, expressive, and, at times, strangely endearing; a brilliant performance.

Hoare has the difficult task of portraying the heroine—a role that is often incredibly annoying. Thankfully, Hoare is confident as well as likeable and plays her character with great thoughtfulness.

Support comes in the form of Tom McCall and Theone Rashleigh, who each play a multitude of characters with ease and brilliant comic timing. The company works together like a finely-oiled machine and it is highly evident that HAG means a lot to all involved.

HAG is touching without being too sentimental, and, just like after Baba Yaga has devoured a child, it is immensely satisfying.

Reviewer: Sean Brooks

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