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The Little Match Girl review, Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells – ‘an inventive delight’

The cast of The Little Match Girl at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler's Wells. Photo: Phil Conrad
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It seems odd to call this story of an orphaned match girl a delight, but Arthur Pita’s reworking of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale is just that. Though set in a sombre, grey, snow-sprinkled world, it fills you with a glowing warmth.

Premiering in 2014, The Little Match Girl is now in its third Christmas season at Sadler’s Wells. Although in Pita’s version the lunar-themed finale – complete with astronaut – offers the poor match girl some salvation, it’s hardly a happy tale. She is teased and shunned by rival match sellers and a trio of greedy, gaudy characters who have plenty but will give nothing. Their cruel actions may be softened by comedy but the vision of the match girl, left outside shoeless and alone, is no less heart-rending.

While Pita doesn’t shy from Andersen’s sorrowful tale, his family-friendly adaptation remains light and charming. The expressive Corey Claire Annand is enchanting as the little match girl and the supporting cast of three are equally outstanding. They flit through a stream of bizarre but endearing characters, each physicalised to perfection.

Pita’s clear, fluent choreography is accentuated by song and speech – yes, it’s in Italian, but understanding the words is not necessary. Each element is expertly woven together and performed with such precision that the story is easily followed. Frank Moon provides the live musical accompaniment and his collection of weird and wonderful instruments – and facial expressions – add a witty edge to the action.

The result is a rich work of theatre that offers an imaginative alternative to the usual Christmas shows.

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Verdict
An unconventional and endlessly inventive Christmas tale  
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