Written by Morna Young
Directed by Beth Morton
Depending upon the poison you pick, the legendary Baba Yaga is famed for either devouring or protecting and raising those without mothers. Is either a fearsome, powerful, malicious witch or an emphatic woman of the world. Context is everything, and that’s something threaded beautifully into Morna Young’s Babs – in its lyrical and spoken manner.
Flavoured with aspects of Slavic folktale, most notably the aforementioned Baba Yaga, Babs transitions the Hag of legend into hostess of a young quine woman, Lisa, from Aberdeen. Lisa’s been patched by her pal just before a holiday, which Lisa had been planning to the detail. What excuse does her friend Shelly give? A lad. Worse than that, a lad called Gareth.
But Lisa’s fortunes take a turn; spurned and berated by her friend for her ‘sheepish’ tendencies of following, Lisa wins a competition to venture out alone to a retreat. It sounds promising, time spent in nature, with the promise of getting what you’ve asked for: just what has Lisa asked for? Well, to get rid of Gareth.
From Islander to Mother’s Song, and now to the unknown and distant woods of a ‘retreat’ run by the titular Babs, Bethany Tennick carries with them a suitable and well-earned mark as a heralding future of Scottish theatre. Their fiery expression is an energetic, even cathartic, explosion of profanity-infused Doric capturing the every day and even magic of Young’s lyrics, possessing a folk-lore element to the composition and melody.
At the heart of it, Young’s script is a pure one and follows a doctrine much closer to the bone than initial appearances. It is, in truth, a contemporary fairy tale which borrows from legend to construct something relatable. Beneath the tight humour and Doric tongue, Babs concerns authenticity, of Lisa’s misguided idea of the truth she is searching for. Disgruntled, put out, and isolated, Lisa thinks what she must do is reclaim a lost friend – in reality, what she needs to do is confront the trauma of her life and grow from the kindness which Shelly initially showed.
Despite the intentions being quite clear, the method of spanning different narrative threads becomes somewhat entangled as the intensity builds. Beth Morton’s direction is straightforward and adaptable to situational changes, aiding Tennick in fluttering between a variety of roles in the one-person monologue. But the branching routes which present to Lisa through the journey, including the additional characters Tennick plays, offer false paths and starts that blur the narrative’s intentions for fleeting moments. Key moments such as Lisa’s altered vocabulary for defensive purposes have a heavy intention but fly at the audience out of nowhere. Lisa’s character and narrative arc does tie together, but perhaps with a few more stray knots and frays than intended.
Knock upon the door of the house with the chicken legs, and you might be surprised by the depth, surrealism and sincerity of the affair. Among the branches of Jonny Scott and Gemma Patchett’s set, complete with flaming Hallowe’en décor, there’s a splendid use of the limited space which feels otherworldly. It places voice and storytelling at the forefront, Tennick’s perfectly pitched charm and genuine nature draw audiences into a world where Once Upon a Time weaves into the pages of the every day.’
Perfectly Pitched Charm
BABS runs at Traverse Theatre until March 18th. Tuesday– Saturday at 13.00pm.
Tickets begin from £17.50 (with Pie & Pint) and £12.00 for Play only. Tickets may be obtained here.