Arthur Pita’s version of Hans Christian Andersen’s mournful story evokes a fittingly festive combination of charm and hope.
That said, this family show is not always a comfortable watch. Set on Christmas Eve, the little match girl (Corey Annand) wanders the streets with her last few matches in hand. She is repeatedly pushed, prodded and turned away by the eccentric characters she encounters, none viler (and more entertaining) than a greedy, gaudy family trio who have plenty, but will give nothing.
Expertly characterised by a cast of performers who flit through multiple roles, the trio simper and snarl at her, their songs comically out of tune. They provide a glimmer of light relief in what is a dark and sombre tale.
Besides a playful encounter with a lamplighter – a sweet and cleverly choreographed duet – the little match girl leads a sad and lonely existence. Fortunately this version has a happy ending, of sorts. Charming and surreal, the lunar-themed finale offers some much-needed respite from Pita’s shivering, snow-sprinkled world, leaving the glowing warmth of hope as its resolution.
The individual charm of each character – even those that are abhorrent – makes this an entertaining and imaginative seasonal alternative. Add to that an eclectic musical accompaniment by Frank Moon that accentuates each physical detail, and it’s clear why this unconventional Christmas tale has become a festive fixture at Sadler’s Wells.