The Little Match Girl brings Hans Christian Andersen’s iconic and beautifully devastating fairytale stories to life on stage, including tales of The Princess and the Pea, The Emperor’s New Clothes and Thumbelina. The dreamy fairy tales are entangled in a dark reality of the homeless Little Match Girl (Edie Edmundson).

Magical extraordinaire, Ole Shuteye (Niall Ashdown), tells The Little Match Girl stories to keep her warm through the tough winter, providing a touching form of escapism from her bleak reality. A lit match transports the audience and the Little Match Girl from story to story, full of live music, puppetry, dance and laughs. The show urges every emotion possible: empathy for the vulnerable child, hope for Thumbelina (Katy Owen) and side- splitting laughter at narrator Ole.

Director Emma Rice beautifully presents the reimagined Andersen stories using her wonderfully unique style. Sarah Wright exhibits stunning puppetry as the puppet director – Edmundson particularly shines with her spectacular skills puppeteering The Little Match Girl. The show is primarily centred around her pivotal character, yet The Little Match Girl remains mute and defenceless in such vicious surroundings. Sensitive movements alone make a significant impact on the audience.

Another stand- out character, portrayed in tiny puppet form, is Thumbelina – a strong-willed portrait painted of the small, pixie-like girl. It’s always nice to see such an empowering female character in a children’s show like this – I know that my 10 year-old theatre companion appreciated it.

Vicki Mortimer’s set design provides a transformative backdrop to the fairy tales, full of colour and interesting shapes. The highlight is a two-tiered, rotating scaffold structure that adds layers and height to the stage. These scenes are accompanied by beautiful live music performances, directed by musical director Ian Ross right on stage. There is a strong theme of strings used to convey Stephen Warbeck’s wonderful score and the lyrics add a strong addition to the tales.

There is a great contrast between the serious, darker scenes that portray the tough subject of poverty, and the comedy-filled, colourful story scenes. Humour is used wonderfully, catering for both young and older audience members – the tongue-in-cheek jokes reference contemporary events such as football teams and politics, flying over the kids’ heads to tickle the many adults present.

The Little Match Girl is very much a children’s story, but caters well for the older audience too. It’s a perfect use of humour and a visually stunning performance – Rice once again gives us a great evening out.

 

 

★★★☆☆

The Little Match Girl runs at Theatre Royal Plymouth until 24 February 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.