Saturday, December 19, 2015


Sadlers Wells at the Lilian Baylis Studio
for The Reviews Hub

Hard to pigeon-hole Arthur Pita's Little Match Girl. “Dance Theatre”, officially, but this unique entertainment embraces so many genres and influences, in a very satisfying hour on the stage.
It has a distinctly European feel – though Hans Christian Andersen's Denmark seems a long way from the fictional Italian town where the Pita sets the action.
As we file in, Frank Moon is already on stage, giving a foretaste of the live music which is such an important part of the show. Mandolin, violin, beatbox and much else besides, including a high-profile solo for the ethereal voice of the theremin. Echoes perhaps of Fellini and his house composer Nino Rota.
Just four dancing, singing actors take on all of the roles – and what splendidly drawn roles they are; some traditional, like Nonna Luna, the ghost of Fiammetta's grandmother, some less so, like Hank the Astronaut, whose LEM the matchgirl helpfully ignites for his return to earth. Audience favourites are the grotesque Donnarumma family, Fulvio and the two “ugly sisters”, who callously celebrate their Christmas while the starving girl watches their shadows on the window-blinds.
There are many such marvellous moments – the town's lights extinguished as Fiammetta knocks on each door, the bullying match boys, her competitors, their fistfuls of tapers (think Struwwelpeter) making menacing music of their own, grandmother's gravestone, the stepladder to the moon – a huge disc which turns at the scene change to reveal the earth seen from space. And, at the end, while on earth life has moved on, and lighters have replaced matches, in the heavens the Little Match Girl is lighting the stars …
Superb performances all round, with impressive quick changes of character and costume. Angelo Smimmo is Nonna Luna, whose Mai Più Freddo, Mai Più Pianti lullaby is a musical highlight, as well as Fulvio, the Donnarumma father. Valentina Golfieri and Karl Fagerlund Brekke are the OTT daughter and mother, as well as the match boys. Brekke is also the kindly lamplighter – a nicely imagined duet with his pole. In the title role, Corey Annand exactly captures the weary pathos of the dying girl – some beautiful solos as she tries to sell her wares, with tentative leaps and twirls. A gentle pas-de-deux on the Sea of Tranquillity with her astronaut (Brekke again). Even at the end, when she finds happiness at last, her joy seems tempered by shyness. A wonderfully compelling characterization, frail, waif-like and totally convincing as the little girl lost in a cruel world.
This is pure Christmas magic, with a strong moral message, and deserves to become as much a traditional part of children's festive entertainment as The Nutcracker or The Snowman.

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