The Little Match Girl
London, Lillian Baylis Studio
19 December 2017
Gallery of pictures (2015) by Foteini Christofilopoulou
I’m late to The little Match Girl and have to say from the off that I have fallen in love with it, hook, line and sinker.
It seems to have every virtue as a Christmas show – it works for all the family, is easy to understand without reading anything, full of lovely surprises, doesn’t drone on or become boring and is not expensive to see.
The Little Match Girl is based on a rather sad Hans Christian Anderson story that Arthur Pita has brought to wide-eyed surreal life. The core remains of a Victorian street urchin alone and trying to make a living selling matches in the depths of winter and who ultimately freezes to death and goes to heaven, if happy at last by being reunited with her grandmother, the only person who ever showed her love. Pita scrambles time, place and language to give a dreamlike world which starts in Victorian Italy and ends on the moon in the 1960’s, all voiced in an Italian dialect that sounds remarkably like Teletubby. And just as with the Tellytubbies, you are never in doubt about what is happening over the show’s 60 minutes of song, dance, acting and miming.
The Little Match Girl is the only constant on stage, finely portrayed by Corey Annand. Three other dance-actors – Angelo Smimmo, Karl Fagerlund Brekke and Valentina Golfieri – all excellent, play a wide variety of characters, perhaps most notably a rich family from hell in a fine shadow puppet section. Yann Seabra’s costumes are rich in detail, whereas the sets are simple but effective in showing the town in miniature, and later the moon is suggested. To the side of the stage stands composer Frank Moon, playing a bewildering variety of acoustic and electronic instruments that can tug the heart strings one moment and at other times suggest space travel (when he goes centre stage and becomes part of the action). It really is masterful what can be achieved with five people on stage to generate all the action and soundscape.
Pita’s telling has it maudlin moments – a young girl dies for goodness’ sake – but it does not dominate in the way it might and ultimately it shows something of a quirky spiritual side coupled to a message that should make everybody think about the way they treat others in their hard times. Of all the shows I’ve seen this year this probably had the least dance content and yet as a package it really delivers on the wonder and thoughtful difference that theatre can make to all our lives. Charmed I was and highly recommend it when it returns.