Thursday 17 November 2022

Theatre Review: Yaga - Feminist Folk Horror

Fairy tales tend to depict witches, particularly old witches, as evil hags. Traditionally, Baba Yaga is more than a wicked old witch, she's a monster from legend, who lives alone in the woods and grinds the bones of pretty much anyone who doesn't meet her exacting standards. But it often seems that those stories are told from a patriarchal point of view.

Yaga, a play performed by Little Lion Theatre Company that's currently on at the Drayton Arms Theatre in London, gives the story a female perspective, and depicts her - or her modern descendants - as something rather different.

The play is in part a murder mystery. A detective finds himself investigating the disappearance of a wealthy young man. He keeps running into stories about a witch, and starts to wonder if the old tales have some truth in them. He partners up with an apprehensive local sheriff, and talks to a list of suspects including a university professor with a taste for younger men, a female boxer, a woman who runs a diner, her shy daughter, and an old woman who uses herbs and other natural things to heal people with various ailments. 

Through it runs the Slavic myth of Baba Yaga and ancient magic, although the characters are all modern-day people living in a small town in Canada on the edge of a forest. The press release I was sent says: 

"This genre-bending comedic fairy tale meets thrilling whodunit gives voice to an antihero of epic proportions while interrogating how her story has historically been told by men. From now on, you'll remember the name Baba Yaga for the right reasons."

The story is also very much within the folk horror genre too. It has the tropes: an outsider comes to an isolated community with strange customs, which usually include human sacrifice. The outsider tries to investigate what's happening, but soon finds they themselves are not only part of it, but have been drawn there because of it. Ancient tradition proves more powerful than the modern world. The feminist twist in Yaga is, that while the ancient customs might seem morally ambigious, they ultimately protect the community - especially women - against bad men.

I really enjoyed Yaga. If you get a chance, do go and see it. It runs until Saturday 19th November and is on at Drayton Arms Theatre, 153 Old Brompton Road, South Kensington, London. SW5 0LJ. Tickets are £15, £12 concessions. You can phone the box office on 02078352301 or visit the website:

The photos on this post are press images from Yaga

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