Puppets and skulls weave magic into a darkly spellbinding Slavic fairytale
Baba Yaga loves children. She can easily eat a whole one.
The child-munching terror who lives surrounded by skulls is coming to Plymouth in Hag, a dark tale just right for Halloween.
The Wrong Crowd theatre company has taken a Slavic fairy tale and turned it into a contemporary coming-of-age story.
And yes, despite the skeletons on stage and in the closet, this is suitable for children. The inclusion of puppetry is a clue.
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"It's a bit scary, quite dark and there is grief and loss," says writer and director Hannah Mulder, setting the scene.
"There is also lots of humour and lots of lightness."
In other words, it is one of those proper, original-style fairy tales "before the Victorians sanitised them", as Hannah puts it.
The Wrong Crowd makes plays for adults and older children. The definition of older is left to the venue (Theatre Royal Plymouth reckons Hag is not suitable for under-10s).
"We don't put an age on because some people then think 'it's just for children'," says Hannah. "It is for adults as well."
The story has a child heroine. Orphaned Lisa enters the scary woods and seeks out the hag-witch to complete a gap in her life.
The themes, those skulls and the hag puppet – a creepy mix of costumed performer and a hideous fish-like mask – will engage the grown-ups for sure.
Children like all of the above too, she says, and adults needn't worry too much about their fears. "Kids are very good at filtering what they can handle.
"If you take away all the darker themes you also take away some of the escapism.
"They need to learn how to handle some of those fears as kids. They learn that the world is not necessarily as unsafe and unfriendly a place as they might think. These kind of stories are one way of negotiating that."
The Wrong Crowd was formed in 2011 by Hannah along with designer and puppet director Rachael Canning.
They were previously in Plymouth last year with The Girl With the Iron Claws.
That dark take on Beauty and the Beast used live action, music and puppets, as with the new show.
The puppetry brings a touch of true theatrical magic, says Hannah.
"There is something human about seeing something brought to life. As an audience we have to engage with the people on the stage.
"We have to agree together that the puppet is alive. That is incredibly magical."
Puppets are a big thing in theatre at the moment. Some, such as in War Horse, even become the stars.
Hannah believes they are a welcome change from the trend towards using more technology on the stage, from digital media to animatronics.
To be successful, though, the use has to truly fit the show.
"You have to use puppetry when you can't use anything else and when it is essential to the show," says Hannah. "It has to be the best way of telling the story.
"We might do a show one day that doesn't use puppetry but for the moment with the stories we have, it really works."
Hag is at the Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth, from Tuesday to Saturday next week.