It’s the perfect setting to inspire, shock, move and teach a willing group of viewers and this is why family shows such as The Little Match Girl (and happier tales) are so important. It’s the perfect opportunity to tear children away from screens and allow them to become part of the magical world of theatre and learn about the world beyond their own experiences and the company of The Little Match Girl provided an unforgettable adventure.
The premise of the show was based on the traditional stories written by Hans Christian Anderson: The Little Match Girl, Thumbelina, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Princess and the Pea. The lighting of each match was used to evoke surreal story telling from Ole Shuteye, played by the extremely talented Niall Ashdown. His narration was aided by a group of Pierrot style characters, multi-roling, dancing and singing their way through each tale, with the central character of the Little Match Girl being so masterfully puppeteered by Edie Edmondson that all you see is a little girl not a puppet.
For children, it’s a spectacle. The stories are familiar, the costumes are bright and often garish and the performances are physical and enchanting. My companion this evening was my 6 year old son who was absolutely delighted by the choreographed fight scene between Thumbelina and the Mole, enthralled by the range of accents and songs and found the Emperor’s ‘costume’ absolutely hilarious. He was literally on the edge of his seat for most of the performance, immersed in this fabricated world of make believe and enjoying every second.
For adults, although still thoroughly enjoyable, there is no escaping the underlying tone. For those familiar with the story of the Little Match girl, it can never be a truly comfortable viewing experience as you know there will be no fairy tale ending. Despite being ‘fairy tales’ Rice has chosen to expose the darker side of humanity in these stories in such a way that a younger audience would not recognise it but is quite harrowing to watch. My son merely dismissed the Mole as a meanie but I interpreted his controlled violence illuminated by red lighting quite differently.
Being a show for all the family, and despite the issues being explored, the stories were punctuated with many moments of physical and verbal comedy amusing both adults and children alike. The actors created a vast range of entertaining characters and told the stories through such a wonderful concoction of puppetry, beautiful harmonies and enthusiastic narration that it would be impossible to not be impressed.
As I stated earlier, theatre should educate as well as entertain and I definitely left the theatre feeling very differently to when I walked in. The audience watched, in silence, the final match extinguish as the Little Match Girl laid her head on the cold ground for the last time and it was hard to not feel responsible. Responsible because we were witness to the various passerby’s ignoring her or taking what little she had left and it was a stark reminder to not be a passive observer. This was something my son also took away with him. Through the clever direction and scripting, he was shielded from most of the darkness but the show did compel him to ask why, why was she ignored, why didn’t anyone help? And it’s from these questions that change can begin. A brilliant, moving production that I highly recommend taking the family to see.