It's been two years since The Wrong Crowd wowed critics and audiences with The Girl With the Iron Claws, a dark reimagining of the Beauty and the Beast story involving puppetry and physical theatre. HAG doesn't quite recreate the magic of that splendid debut but there's plenty to admire here nonetheless.
At the heart of the play are two strong female protagonists. Baba Yaga is a frightening witch from Slavic folklore who eats small children, while Lisa is a little girl of the company's creation who refuses to become the old woman's prey. Puppetry and masks are used to strong effect throughout the show, but designer and puppet director Rachael Canning's best work undoubtedly comes in the shape of Baba Yaga herself. The witch is a truly mesmerising presence, drawing the gaze wherever she goes.
Other elements of the show are less successful. After Lisa's mother dies, her father remarries, bringing a stepmother and two stepsisters into her life. All three characters are overplayed, with the company falling back on crude pantomime humour that threatens to squash the subtle storytelling going on elsewhere in the show. A later scene in which Baba Yaga tucks into plate after plate of human body parts lacks complexity too. These bits of the show will get their fair share of laughs but compared to the comic wealth of The Girl With the Iron Claws, this is lowest common denominator stuff.
Second albums are never easy and neither are second plays. Here's to record number three.