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The Little Match Girl at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells – ‘perfect’

Corey Claire Annand and Valentina Golfieri in The Little Match Girl at Sadler's Wells. Photo: Phil Conrad Corey Claire Annand and Valentina Golfieri in The Little Match Girl at Sadler's Wells. Photo: Phil Conrad
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If this isn’t one of the most imaginative interpretations of Hans Christian Andersen’s story on the planet I’ll eat my own head. It is perfectly poised between comedy and pathos, tragedy and wonder. While he is faithful to the source material, Arthur Pita adds a coda that – thanks to an astronautical coincidence – is sublimely relevant.

With a musical intro from Frank Moon, who plays a variety of instruments and records them live, this appears to have slipped through a tear in the dimensional fabric. A tiny village is wheeled on and windows light up. The Little Match Girl attempts to sell her matches to passers-by with unlit pipes. The freezing cold is conveyed with minimal snow effects and mime. No match for two rivals, she is robbed of her few coins and her shoes – an act of cruelty closer to rape than robbery. A ghastly family loaded down with gifts ignore her entreaties and she finds the ultimate comfort at the grave of her beloved grandmother.

Pita’s heady cocktail of folk-tinged dance, commedia dell’arte grotesques, poignant songs and inventive staging is extraordinarily evocative. Aside from the title role, the remaining cast of three zip through costume changes to play all the other characters. The choreography ranges from the jauntily robust to the delicately nuanced, watched over by the huge moon that dominates the stage.

Did I mention that the entire thing is conducted in Italian? I have no idea why and, frankly, couldn’t give a fig. When something this perfect comes along you don’t question it.

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Arthur Pita shines a light into the darkest corners of Hans Christian Andersen’s heartbreaking tale