Review: Les Enfants Terribles in The House With Chicken Legs, York Theatre Royal and Leeds Playhouse ***

Eve de Leon Allen’s Marinka and Lisa Howard’s Baba in Les Enfants Terribles’ The House With Chicken Legs. Picture: Rah Petherbridge

TECHNICAL issues delayed the start of Wednesday’s opening night of Les Enfants Terribles’ tour of The House With Chicken Legs.

There would be further hitches during the performance. The house – divided into a revolving interior/exterior and a separate porch – was troublesome to manoeuvre. Something of an irony when Sophie Anderson’s story is all about the house’s tendency to up sticks without warning in the dark of night, keeping 12-year-old Marinka (Eve de Leo Allen) on the reluctant move.

No doubt such gremlins will be ironed out, and indeed it may have been better to hold back the press to later in the week (an opportunity that was indeed offered by the Theatre Royal’s marketing team on arrival).

Likewise, microphone levels will be adjusted to facilitate hearing the lyrics of Stephanie Levi-John’s big number as Yaga more clearly.

On first night, the teething problems took away from the “magically inventive” billing that Les Enfants Terribles’ premiere at HOME, Manchester, had elicited in 2022. 

Let’s look at its strengths instead, then. It is a technically demanding show, not only with the regular movement of Jasmine Swan’s set design, but also with the need to work in tandem with Nina Dunn’s video designs and composer Alexander Wolfe’s sound design. 

Those two elements are powerful forces at play, together with Samuel Wyer’s puppetry and costume design, supporting the two primary pistons: co-director Oliver Lansley’s script, rooted in storytelling, and Wolfe and Lansley’s songs that recall the Weimar cabaret of Weill and Brecht.

In Anderson’s tale, performed by an actor-musician cast, de Leon Allen’s 12-year-old orphan Marinka dreams of a normal life, where she can stay somewhere long enough to make friends. Yorkshire theatre regular Lisa Howard’s Baba has Marinka under her wing as her successor as the guardian of the gateway, guiding the souls of the dead into the afterlife. That gateway happens to be Baba’s house, and where the dead need their exit, with a last warming bowl of food and a star-lit sky, the house must move to meet those demands.

Howard’s Baba, with her Russian accent, grandmotherly garb, strict, cajoling airs and bon mots, chalks up another memorable turn for this ever-watchable northern favourite. De Leon Allen straddles appealing to younger audiences and adults alike with Marinka’s precocious manner, her wish to do her own thing when burdened with the responsibility of taking on a pre-ordained task.

The relationship with Howard’s Baba is played beautifully, as they tug in different directions, Baba answering always to duty; the rebellious, curious Marinka craving the space to grow her way, befriending football-loving, same-aged Ben (Michael Barker). Puppeteer Dan Willis’s jackdaw Jack is her constant companion, becoming amusingly ever more assertive.

The dead, represented by masks, skulls and candlelight, keep popping in, albeit that their first musical number goes on too long, but in keeping with Mexico’s Day of the Dead, the dead are not creepy or scary, but full of personality.

Stephanie Levi-John’s knowing, jive-talking Yaga adds momentum to the second half, leading the singing in the ensemble number Yaga’s Party, when dancing in chicken-legged boots goes down a storm.

By comparison, the key magical revelation, the first spouting of chicken legs by the house, is disappointingly flat, relying on the arm movements of de Leon Allen’s Marinka and Eloise Warboys’ Nina to power those legs. Would a mechanical device have been more effective? Over to Heath Robinson.

Les Enfants Terribles’ first visit to York Theatre Royal since The Trench in June 2013 had been keenly awaited; indeed Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster has wanted to explore the possibility of co-productions. If The House With Chicken Legs fell short of the highest expectations, it still has magic moments, and humour too, in its combination of a rites of passage and adult themes, young life and death, all the more resonant in Covid’s shadow.

Les Enfants Terribles in The House With Chicken Legs, York Theatre Royal, 7pm tonight; 2.30pm and 7pm, Saturday. Leeds Playhouse, September 13 to 16, 7pm plus 1.30pm Thursday and 2pm Saturday matinees. Box office: York, 01904 623568 or; Leeds, 0113 213 7700 or

The House With Chicken Legs sprouts touring wings in Les Enfants Terribles’ show

The power of puppetry in Les Enfants Terribles’ play with music The House With Chicken Legs. Picture: Rah Petherbridge

IMAGINE a house with chicken legs. Such an image will come to stage life in Les Enfants Terribles’ account of Sophie Anderson’s novel at York Theatre Royal from September 6 to 9.

First staged at HOME Manchester in 2022, Oliver Lansley’s adaptation is on its premiere tour, visiting Leeds Playhouse too from September 13 to 16.

Directed by Lansley and James Seager, with music and sound design by Alexander Wolfe and songs co-written by Wolfe and Lansley, The House With Chicken Legs transports audiences to a world inspired by Baba Yaga with the aid of puppets, live music, masks and magic. 

The story follows Marinka, a young girl who dreams of a normal life, where she can stay somewhere long enough to make friends, but she must surmount one problem: her house has chicken legs and is liable to move without warning.

The house with chicken legs in The House With Chicken Legs. Picture: Rah Petherbridge

Such propensity to movement mirrors Les Enfants Terribles. “We kind of go all over the place,” says director Oliver. “I’m based in London, but this production originated in Manchester last year with HOME as our partners, playing only in Manchester. This tour will be the first time everyone can see it, as we move around the country, which is very exciting.

“We brought The Trench to the Theatre Royal [for the TakeOver Festival in June 2013] and we’re delighted to be coming back to York.”

Since the Manchester run, Lansley and Seager have “tweaked bits here and there, trimmed bits here and there, and some of the cast have changed”. “But we still have our original Marinka and Baba, Eve de Leon Allen and Lisa Howard,” says Oliver.

Howard will need no introduction to York or Leeds audiences, whether from Park Bench Theatre’s Every Time A Bell Rings in the Rowntree Park Friends’ Garden or her Spirit Of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol at Leeds Playhouse.

Les Enfants Terribles director Oliver Lansley. Picture: Michael Carlo

“The book was written as a young adult novel, but the play is suitable for children aged nine upwards,” says Oliver. “It was inspired by the tale of Baba Yaga, who, in an old legend, did have a house with chicken legs. Her job is to guide the souls of the dead into the afterlife, so Sophie’s book is one of those stories that’s magical and is written for young readers but deals with adult themes, but in a really magical way.

“Marinka is the granddaughter of Baba Yaga and is destined to be the next of the guardians of the gate, but like most teenagers [or 12-year-old in her case], she’s rebelling and trying to find her own way in the world in that space.”

Marinka, played by an adult in Les Enfants Terribles’ production, is dreaming of leading a normal life. “But she doesn’t really know what that is, and there’s that thing of her being a fish out of water, pretending to be a normal child, but not knowing what the rules are or how she should behave,” says Oliver.

“But then she discovers that there’s no such thing as normal and that everyone has their own complications.”

Eve de Leon Allen’s Marinka and Lisa Howard’s Baba, right, in Les Enfants Terribles’ The House With Chicken Legs. Picture: Rah Petherbridge

Among those complications addressed by Anderson’s story is the impact on young people of moving home. “There is this idea at play of having to move around constantly, particularly for young people, whether changing school, moving house, moving from town to town, when they want security,” says Oliver.

“That security comes from family, and that’s what ‘home’ is, rather than a physical place that you call home.”

Be assured, audiences will see a house move on stage…on chicken legs. “That’s the sort of thing we love to do,” says Oliver. “And yes, we’ve managed to make it fun, after we looked at different ways of doing it and finally settled on one, because it has to be really magical.

“We try to make all these things part of the show as seamlessly as possible, looking at the best way to tell a story with the tools available, such as our video designs by Nina Dunn, who did the Jaws show, The Shark Is Broken, in the West End.”

Music and masks in Les Enfants Terribles’ The House With Chicken Legs. Picture: AB Photography

Crucially too, The House With Chicken Legs “deftly navigates the complexities of loss from a whole new perspective”. “The story explores how we look at death differently in different cultures: in our culture we don’t talk about it much, but other cultures celebrate it, like the Day of the Dead in Mexico,” says Oliver.

“But young people have had to confront death over the past few years with Covid in a way that they’ve not had to before that. Death doesn’t have to be a scary thing, but we do give it that ominous status in our country by not talking about it.” 

Les Enfants Terribles in The House With Chicken Legs, York Theatre Royal, September 6 to 9, 7pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee; Leeds Playhouse, September 13 to 16, 7pm plus 1.30pm Thursday and 2pm Saturday matinees. Box office: York, 01904 623568 or; Leeds, 0113 213 7700 or

Copyright of The Press, York

REVIEW: Cinderella, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until Dec 31 *****

Eve De Leon Allen’s Cinderella in the party scene in the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s Cinderella. All pictures: Tony Bartholomew

ON the surface, and certainly from a cursory glance at the press release, this could be a conventional telling of Cinderella’s tale.

Except that this is the Brothers Grimm tale as re-spun by Nick Lane, with music and lyrics by Simon Slater, direction by Gemma Fairlie and stage & costume design by Helen Coyston. Namely the Scarborough team that thinks outside the box to deliver a Yorkshire winter show like no other.

This Cinderella is not pantomime, although slapstick, song-and-dance routines and colourful characters abound, complemented by a gorgeous transformation scene and a singalong Reach for The Stars (a panto staple country-wide).

Life in the fast Lane is inventive, inspired and ingenious, rooted in storytelling, physical comedy, multi role-playing, teamwork and individual flair in Fairlie’s fabulous, free-spirited cast.

Whitbelia’s regal family: David Fallon’s Flarf, with his beloved horse Malcolm, Lucy Keirl’s Delia and Roger Parkins’ Dean

Step forward, and never take a backward step, Eve De Leon Allen (Cinderella/Usher); David Fallon (Charming, Ratface, Flarf, Mouse); Lucy Keirl (Mandy, Delia, Herald); Roger Parkins (Delightful, Dad, Blob, Pumpkin, Dean) and Sarah Pearman (Chief Fairy, Mum, Filania, Frog).

Expect the unexpected with a Nick Lane story and he will still surprise you, while also reprising the hits from past SJT shows: the importance to the tale of Scarborough, its people, culture and seagulls; the digs at nearby places (Whitby’s goths and “inferior fish-and-chip shops”); the silliness yet the poignancy.

Prince Charming has made way for Charming, and there’s a character called Delightful too. The young prince, Flarf, is more interested in spending his days with his horse Malcolm (trained at DisMountview Academy, the programme biog states), rather than bride-finding parties.

Sister act: Roger Parkins’ Blob, left, and David Fallon’s Ratface

Cinderella’s stepsisters are outré fashionistas Ratface and Blob; the outstanding Keirl’s tooth fairy-in-training, 23780, wants to be known as Mandy.

De Leon Allen’s resourceful yet put-upon Cinderella is fixated on maps, and the love she seeks is not that of a “handsome Prince” but the embrace of her missing Mum, still alive she believes but lost to her in a storm when sailing to the magical Land Beyond Beyond, far, far away from Lane’s Scarbodoria and neighbouring Whitbelia.

Lane’s script has headed there too, far beyond routine panto, and anything but lost in such fresh storytelling, where he combines the golden olden with the modern, reinvigorating characters too, whether Cinderella, the prince or the Pumpkin (played by the chameleon Parkins, whose forgetful king is a gem too).

Eve De Leon Allen’s Cinderella andf Lucy Keirl’s Mandy

Fairlie’s cast have such fun with Lane’s flights of imagination, his extravagant, bold, lovable characters (yes, even the stepmother and self-deluded daughter double act); his fearless pushing of boundaries; his love of a joke; the need for mannequins or quick costume changes to keep up with the number of characters required for a scene.

Not least his radical retuning of Cinderella herself to today’s (feminist) sensibilities, delivered with a lightness of touch that is more impactful. She has always wanted to be an explorer, and in turn Lane explores new possibilities for her character.

Add Slater’s witty songs, a nod to The Wizard Of Oz, a notable decrease in Lane’s propensity to bottom-burp gags, and Cinderella is a breath of Scarbodoria fresh air to rival the North and South Bay.

“The most important thing is to be good,” concludes Fairy 23780, sorry, Mandy. A good point on which to finish a very good show. Box office: 01723 370541 or

Roger Parkins’ larger-than-life Pumpkin in Cinderella

Did you know?

NEXT year’s SJT “Chrtistmas Spectacular” will be Beauty And The Beast from December 1 to 30. Tickets are on sale already.