WHAT happens when you take an ancient Slovakian folk tale and re-imagine it for a multi-storey car park in York?

The answer can be found at Piccadilly Car Park, Merchantgate, in York theatre maker Hannah Davies’s new “immersive, site-specific audio experience” Baba Yaga, as part of the York Mediale 2018 festival of digital arts from October 1 to 6 at 7pm nightly.

“Lisa is running from someone, or something. Who, or what it is, she can’t quite tell. All she knows is that in the daytime it lurks around every corner, and at night it leaps through her dreams,” says Hannah, whose company, Common Ground Theatre, has teamed up with Hannah Bruce & Co to adapt the story of Baba Yaga the witch.

“This contemporary, urban interpretation of Baba Yaga will bring you face to face with your own bravery, your own choices, and your own fears, as Lisa seeks advice from Baba Yaga when stuck in a world of 'obligation' and 'should'.”

York Press:

Baba Yaga writer Hannah Davies

Baba Yaga will be presented as a short pilot piece – 30 minutes in length – that “uses a thrilling combination of site-specific storytelling and immersive audio techniques, including binaural sound recordings, to create an atmospheric reimagining of this terrifying tale”.

“At this stage, it’s a trailer piece for what we hope we’ll one day develop into a full performance, though unfortunately we didn’t receive Arts Council funding for that,” says Hannah. “As a self-contained piece of narrative in its own right, this work-in-progress shares our experiments so far.”

Hannah’s previous audio installation for Common Ground, Within This Landscape’s walk around Coxwold, won The (York) Press Award for Cultural Highlight of The Year in 2014. Now, she turns from her own childhood memoir to a story she has loved for years.

“Baba Yaga is a Slovakian folk tale about a witch who lives in the deepest, darkest forest in a house built on chicken legs and flies through the night on a pestle and mortar, “ says Hannah. “She’s a formidable crone with an insatiable appetite for lost souls, and when you meet her, she’ll either eat you or give you the most sage wisdom, depending on how you approach her, so it’s the archetypal story of the maiden and the crone.

York Press:

Piccadilly car park: "It has a weird, dated Eighties 'charm' to it," says Hannah Davies

“I came across the story several years ago and have had an obsession with it ever since because I love the idea she will either tear you apart or give you the best advice ever.”

Likewise, Hannah has long been interested in the head-set theatre experience, favoured too by Alan Lane’s Leeds company, Slung Low, not least for Blood + Chocolate on the streets of York in 2013.

Looking to build on Within This Landscape with better technology, Hannah has linked up with Hannah Bruce & Co, a London and York collective that specialises in sound, movement, technology and light, “creating bespoke atmospheric encounters in and around architecture”.

In this case, a concrete car park in York city centre, last used as a somewhat echoey theatre space by York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre for Secret Solstice at the Illuminating York Festival in October 2008. Enter the head set, exit those echoes.

York Press:

Bring your headphones: the all-important aid to enjoying Baba Yaga 

"Hannah’s company have done site-specific pieces for the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Hoxton Hall and the Barbican in London, creating immersive sound works through headsets, so they had the ideal technology, which I didn’t,” says Hannah.

She has worked with sound and design duo Hannah Bruce and Jonathan Eato to make Baba Yago, as told by the voices of Hannah Davies, Audrie Woodhouse and Dave Jarman from Davies’s script.

“It’s a reimagining of the original tale, rooted in psychology and the significance of a recurring dream of a hag pounding on your chest, when people are having difficulty processing stuff, known as Old Hag Syndrome, where it turns into sleep paralysis,” says Hannah, who has suffered the terrifying experience of that dream, "though not for a long time now.".

“I’ve reimagined the story for an everyday urban space, like a car park, that has a liminal, everyday boringness to it; one of those places where you always arriving or leaving, but never really staying, like a supermarket too. I can then use it in a universal way, so rather than a deep, dark wood, we now have a deep, dark car park in York that has a weird, dated Eighties 'charm' to it, with Viking remains in the mud below it."

Please note that pre-booking is essential. “Because of the way the technology works, you can’t just turn up on the night,” says Hannah. “You will need to buy a ticket and then download the Hannah Bruce & Co App to your own headphones by entering a ticket code assigned to you by the box office. The App then automatically downloads a soundtrack personalised to that ticket. Each visitor will be immersed in an intense and individual audio world that will guide them through the site.”

The App will run on Apple (iPad and iPod touch iOS 10.0 or later), as well as Android. For more details, go to yorkmediale.com, yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or cgtheatre.co.uk. Tickets cost £5 at cgtheatre.co.uk.