This Christmas family show in the cosy space of the Lillian Baylis Studio (at Sadler’s Wells) is a real charmer. It’s all put together on a very modest scale, with an energetic cast of four portraying multiple roles. But it has a warm heart and a big imagination and bags of theatrical magic. At 60 minutes straight through it doesn’t lose its focus and kept the smaller members of the audience engaged throughout.
Arthur Pita has taken Hans Christian Andersen’s story of The Little Match Girl and adapted it for the stage in a hybrid production incorporating dance, speech and singing. It is set in Italy and all the speech and singing is in Italian. Oddly, this doesn’t seem any impediment to following the narrative which is very clearly laid out. Only towards the very end did I hear a small voice demanding a translation of a particular phrase from Mummy.
We see our heroine, the Little Match Girl, visiting her Granny’s gravestone, trying to sell her wares and meeting up with various passers-by, some nice, some nasty. Particularly obnoxious are a rich family with a spoilt brat daughter. As more snow falls, the Little Match girl gets colder and colder but the family refuse to let her into their house.
Now you might think that the narrative of the Little Match Girl, though undoubtedly seasonal, is a bit bleak. The poor girl, all matches gone, is destined to freeze to death, so how can this story be a cheery uplifting Christmas treat? Arthur Pita deals with this neatly. The grandmother takes the frozen girl away to live with her on the moon, reached by a glittery stepladder. And there they are happy. Then, too much giggling from the audience, they are visited by an astronaut. We see a delightfully home-made-looking tiny lunar landing module descend to the stage and a little radio-controlled toy moon buggy whiz across it before our actual astronaut figure appears to dance a duet with the girl. So we do have a happy ending.
The production was originally created last year for DanceEast by Arthur Pita. He is certainly enjoying a productive creative streak at present, with his successes earlier this year for Ballet Black (A Dream within a Midsummer Night’s Dream) and his The World’s Greatest Show in the Hamlyn Hall at the Royal Opera House. He has a sure theatrical sense and never patronises his young audience.
Corey Annand is a sweet-natured heroine, the only one of the cast not called on to play multiple roles. She is menaced by rival match sellers. Pita makes clever use of their long matches held out like the spokes of a fan, swishing through the air, trapping her in their mesh. Though she has her solos and a dance with a lamplighter armed with a long pole (used to acrobatic effect) it’s her duet with the astronaut which is the most enjoyable purely dance moment. The cast are seriously hard-working, moving from one character to another, singing, dancing and shifting bits of scenery. Buon Natale to them all.
Set and costume design are by Yann Seabra, who manages to create a lot with a little. The houses of the town are simple tiny cut-outs that the cast pull onto the stage. The costumes are rather heavy and perhaps do obscure some of the dance steps but then dance is only one part of the production. The spoilt brat girl’s costume is splendidly vulgar. The house of the rich family is just a little box but still manages to have smoke from its chimney. It’s all done with more imagination than budget.
A special mention must go to the musician Frank Moon, a long-standing collaborator with Pita, who composed all the music for the show. He was there at the side of the stage performing on anything from the violin, whistle, guitar and percussion with a little electronic backing assistance. He is a one-man orchestra conjuring up a remarkable range of musical textures. It didn’t seem surprising that he could throw in a few nifty dance steps as part of the curtain calls.
There are tickets still available and the run continues until the 4th January. It’s a charming treat for the very young at heart.