The House with Chicken Legs Review

York Theatre Royal – until Saturday 9th September 2023

Reviewed by Janina Cairns


The House with Chicken Legs is a heartwarming story inspired by author Sophie Anderson’s love of Slavic folklore and fairytales. It is designed for ages 9+ and the show comprises of a mixture of actors and puppets with a running time of 2 and half hours. If you are considering it, please know it does have a bit of smoke effect and some flashing lights – but not all the time.

The story primarily centres around a young girl called Marinka (Eve De Leon Allen) who wants nothing more than to stay in one place, make friends, have a normal 12 year old’s life, and not have a house that moves when it feels like it. Marinka has a Jackdaw friend (worked by Dan Willis) who has its own humorous character at times. During the play we also meet a young boy, Ben (Michael Barker), an older Yaga called Tatiana (Stephanie Levi-John) and a young girl called Nina (Elouise Warboys) who intertwine into Marinka’s story.

The play introduces us to death and grief in a wonderful way. Sounds a little dark and morbid? Far from it! It is humorous in parts, heartfelt all the way through and Marinka’s character has you enthralled throughout. Raised by her Baba (Lisa Howard), Slovak for grandmother, you learn that Baba has the role of a Yaga who is a Guardian of the Gate. The Yaga’s job is to guide the spirits of the newly departed, through the gateway from our world to the stars where the cycle becomes complete. This is portrayed with such compassion, fun, and empathy and the stage effects are lovely. At one point, Marinka decides to do, what she thinks is a nice thing, for Nina a girl spirit of her own age, and we learn why that was a bad idea.

At certain times during the play, we see some puppets play the scenes out. Now, although this was expertly done, from where we were sitting, you couldn’t see many features of the puppets as they were quite small. You did get the gist of what was being played out and for me, that didn’t take away from the story at all. The shadow play was very clever and again, done so well that you felt the emotions. All the characters relationships on stage came across strong and you quickly started to feel for each one and felt the bonds they had. Not always easy to do when you have a cast of only 6 players. Other than Marinka, the cast not only played their characters, but also played “the deceased” and “the houses”. Every cast member also helped move the stage sets around – which in itself was a feat of precision. It was the first night, and some of the stage changes were a little slow, but they will soon get this smoother and quicker. There are quite a few moving parts and changes and it was impressive to see how they had done the stage sets.

I was privileged to review this play at the York Theatre Royal. It itself is over 250 years old and continues to produce all kinds of theatre shows making a favourite of theatre goers. There are 3x car parks within approx. 10 mins walk of the theatre should you need one.

This play is visually and emotionally impressive. It is heartwarming and heart wrenching. Looking around, the children in attendance tonight loved it too. A great family outing. So, if you want a feel good play, definitely go see this one. You won’t be disappointed.