Sunday, March 3, 2019


Christine Johnson as Baba Yaga. Photo: Rob McDougall


Baba Yaga. Co-Creators Christine Johnson. Rosemary Myers, Shona Reppe.

 Directed by Rosemary Myers. Sound designer/composer Peter Nelson. Animator. Chris Edser. Dramaturg Julianne O’Brien. Technical designer  Chris Petridis. Lighting designer Richard Vabre Movement consultant Carol Wellman Kelly. Design realizer Ailsa Paterson Costume designer/maker Selene Cochrane. Co-commissioned by Imaginate and Windmill Theatre Company. in association with Adelaide Festival. Queens Theatre. Tuesday February 26 – Wednesday March 6.2019

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Baba Yaga. Photo: Rob McDougall


Windmill Theatre Company is Australia’s leading Children’s Theatre Company and it is easy to see why. The company’s Adelaide Festival production of Baba Yaga is a visual and aural delight, imaginative, inventive, enchanting and totally captivating.  A fabulous fusion of live performance, animation and installation combine to create a fantasy world of strange characters, pop up jungles of plants and animals and a superbly synchronized soundscape.

Slavic folklore describes Baba Yaga as a supernatural and ferocious looking woman who lives deep in the wood. Others translate Baba Yaga as a witch. In Windmill’s version, co-creators Christine Johnson, who also plays the title role, director Rosemary Myers and award winning artist Shone Reppe concentrate on the notion of a weird and mystical woman with strange powers and eccentric foibles. Johnson, well-known as the youngest of the three Kransky Sisters, brilliantly inhabits the quirky eccentricity of Baba Yaga. The play is set in the grey Poultry Apartments with its weird assortment of bizarre pop-up guests. Meek and mild Vaselina (Elizabeth Hay) is the obliging receptionist, charged with keeping the rules and obediently following the orders of the demanding residents. Enter, to the boisterous music of Russian folk song the newest resident, the colourful, and intimidating Baba Yaga. In an instant, Vaselina’s orderly, controlled and prohibitive world is turned upside down by cacophonous sounds from the new resident’s apartment, now overgrown with unusual plants, and occupied by a cat with no respect for rules.

Elizabeth Hay as Vaselina.  Photo: Sia Duff
Vaselina, the poor girl who was responsible for the death of her class’s pet mouse at school, who was always told to be quiet when she tried to sing or who loved ice skating but was afraid that she might lose her fingers in a fall, is powerless to assert herself in the presence of the non compliant Baba Yaga.

Baba Yaga, hungering for delicious flesh curbs her cannibalistic tendencies to take Vaselina on a wonderful, thrilling and surprising voyage of discovery into the stratosphere and beyond, across icy peaks and through luscious jungle. In a digital landscape of fascinating animation, and distinctive soundscapes the magical power of transformation and self discovery transports the meek and mild Vaselina into the exuberant and playful creator  of her true potential. No longer is Vaselina, greased down by stupid rules, humiliating judgements and confined expectations. She is free to dance, to sing, to skate and soarand live the dream.

Elizabrth Hay and Christine Johnson in Baba Yaga  Photo  Sia Duff,
Like every good story, Baba Yaga’s moral is crystal clear. In Windmill’s bewitching production. Johnson and Hay are delightful to watch, exhilarating in the joy of their performance. As the animation swirled before me, jungles grew, fearsome residents’ faces twitched and grimaced, the white cat snarled and the hungry caterpillar sidled by I imagined the play as a fascinating pop-up book on every young child’s bookcase, filling their minds with magical imaginings and the dreams of what they have the power to be.

Windmill’s success dwells in the realm of the imagination of today’s child. Baba Yaga is the theatre of the visual invention, describing in images the wonderment of the heart and the mind.  This is no proscription of response but a powerful force to expand one’s imaginings and for that Windmill rightfully takes its place as the Baba Yaga of transformed Chidlren’s Theatre and its new and exciting pathways to the child’s imagination.