Is the house going to grow chicken legs and run across the stage? It’s not the central dramatic question of this stage adaptation of Sophie Anderson’s highly garlanded YA novel, but it’s what most audiences will wonder.
Fortunately, there is much else to distract while that is pondered in a piece packed with fun, exuberant musical numbers, amusingly irreverent performances and inventive theatricality.
The novel was inspired by folk tales Anderson was told by her Prussian grandmother and Les Enfants Terribles is the perfect company for this version. Led by adapter and co-director Oliver Lansley, the company’s idiosyncratic style is apt for the story’s milieu.
Marinka lives with her grandmother, Baba, a yaga; someone who guards the gate between the living and the dead and guides the recently departed to the other side. The always amusing Lisa Howard adds another impressive comic turn to her CV as Marinka’s grandmother amid a young cast who keep comedic pace with impressive ease. David Fallon as a young Geordie who falls for Marinka is particularly funny and Eve De Leon Allen as Marinka has bags of likability.
The production design, Día de los Muertos-chic, isn’t scared to mash styles together, giving us lo-fi (though highly inventive) puppetry alongside projection and good old fashioned storytelling.
The piece is overlong, with too much story and a running time that pushes towards three hours, surely a challenge to the target audience’s attention span. It is at its best when it chooses irreverence over sincerity, although it is particularly strong when portraying the exquisite awkwardness of teenage life.
And yes, the house grows chicken legs.