Seen at Perth Theatre;

Touring Scotland until June 3


Seen at Tron Theatre, Glasgow;

At Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, May 16-19


Seen at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds;

Touring Scotland until June 25

Reviewed by Mark Brown

From St Petersburg to Sebastopol, from Tbilisi to Tashkent, ask anyone who grew up in the former Soviet Union, and they will tell you about their childhood terror of Baba Yaga.

It’s not that this supernatural, forest-dwelling woman (who flies around in a mortar and carries a pestle) is necessarily evil. Sometimes her intentions are malign, sometimes they’re good.

And that’s the problem. Baba Yaga (one of the great characters of Slavic folklore) is deeply (and terrifyingly) ambiguous.

Imagine, then, that this enigmatic figure (who seems as likely to eat you as to save you from life’s dangers) lived, not in the woods, but in the serviced apartment block where you work as a receptionist. This is precisely what Shona Reppe (one of Scotland’s finest children’s theatremakers) and her Australian collaborators Christine Johnston and Rosemary Myers (of Windmill Theatre, Adelaide) have done.

Welcome to the ludicrously named Poultry Park Apartments (named, perhaps, after the “chicken legs” Baba Yaga is reputed to have) where timid and self-effacing Vaselina (played with beautifully gentle humour by Reppe) is the put upon receptionist. Living (in an appropriately Orwellian reference) on floor 101 of the apartment block, Baba (played with delicious craziness by Johnston) wears a handbag on her head, adores cacti and (to the fury of her neighbours) likes nothing more than playing very loud techno music to her small army of cats.

Vaselina’s professional obligation to confront Baba turns from fear to fascination as the eccentric witch puts the receptionist in touch with her modest, and long-suppressed, childhood dreams (such as to sing and skate). All of this, from Baba’s mad apartment to Vaselina being transported (Willy Wonka-style) through the roof and into outer space, is envisioned using brilliantly inventive projected images.

Fabulously performed, technically outstanding (in music and sound, as well as visuals) and excellently directed by Myers, this world premiere was commissioned by Imaginate, producers of the Children’s International Festival (which takes place in Edinburgh from May 26 to June 3). Aimed at kids aged seven to 12, it begs the question as to why more creators of live drama for adults don’t allow themselves the same kind of imaginative licence as our best children’s theatremakers.

This said, whatever the self-imposed limitations on much new theatre writing in Scotland these days, there are certainly some authors of plays for grown-ups who are exercising their imaginations. One such is actor-turned-playwright Martin McCormick, whose new drama Ma, Pa And The Little Mouths is a delightfully discomfiting work of absurdism.

Set in the dusty and unkempt flat of Ma and Pa (an ageing West of Scotland couple, the former of whom is, improbably, pregnant), the play resides in a fearful dystopia that is both bleakly futuristic and sardonically nostalgic. The writing bears discernable debts to the plays of such modernist masters as Alfred Jarry (creator of Ma and Pa Ubu), Samuel Beckett and, most strikingly, Eugene Ionesco (and, as the late Barry Norman might have said, why not?).

The relationship between Ma and Pa (Karen Dunbar and Gerry Mulgrew on captivating, darkly hilarious form) is characterised by an irascible, contemptuous familiarity. Their comical verbal jousting is interrupted by Neil (an oddly-named young woman, played with appropriate disconcertion by Nalini Chetty), who requires refuge from the feral humanity outside.

The ensuing drama involves interrogation (of Neil, by Ma), memory (Ma of her aristocratic proletarian upbringing, Pa of his childhood photo being in a shop window in Paisley) and fresh custard. Matters come to a head as Neil is compelled to watch Pa’s gloriously preposterous variety act and Ma and Pa contemplate the genuinely horrible, psychologically and socially symbolic fate of the “little mouths”.

If there is any criticism to be made of the play it is that its chaos requires a little more discipline, such are the paradoxical demands of theatrical absurdism. That said, director Andy Arnold does an excellent job of delivering a marvellously funny and implausibly disquieting work of Scottish modernism.

Sunshine On Leith is about as far from Ionesco’s experimental flights of fancy as it’s possible to get. Stephen Greenhorn’s popular Proclaimers musical about de-mobbed soldiers returning from Afghanistan to Edinburgh (which premiered at Dundee Rep in 2007, and transferred to the big screen in 2013) has been revived for West Yorkshire Playhouse by James Brining (who also directed the original production on Tayside).

In his programme notes, Brining makes great claims for the contemporary resonance of the play’s themes of “community, belonging and togetherness”. Someone of a more cynical perspective (i.e. me) might suggest that the real reason for the revival is not that it was Brining’s best work in Dundee (that, surely, was his superb production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?), but, rather, its probable commercial success.

In fairness, there is some fine acting in this rendering of Greenhorn’s formulaic tale of romance (between soldiers and nurses) and strains on a 30-year-old marriage. However, Jocasta Almgill (who plays nurse Yvonne) aside, there’s precious little in the way of good singing.

The show (which begins its Scottish tour at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh on May 22) is lavishly designed and slickly produced. As at the Rep 11 years ago, I confess to sitting in resigned bemusement in the Leeds theatre while the audience gave a standing ovation to this soap opera with songs.

For tour dates for Baba Yaga, visit:

For tour dates for Sunshine on Leith, visit: