Monday, 5 December 2016

FIVE STAR REVIEW - The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales


The last 10 days or so have seen some of the coldest nights this year prompting concerns about those who sleep rough.
And their plight is brought home with the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Matchgirl. It is this tale of the young girl who sells matches to make a few pennies but ultimately succumbs to the severe winter weather that has inspired the Globe’s artistic director Emma Rice in her first production at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales is a show for our times. Set in the warm and cosy confines of this glorious theatre it has been adapted by Joel Horwood and features a group of Vaudeville actors from Ole Shuteye’s troupe who enact stories for the little girl.
With a strike of a match, these stories - Thumbelina, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Princess And The Pea - are played out using puppetry, verse, music and song and enchant and delight both the girl, herself a puppet, and the audience.
Some of the stories are sad and melancholy of course, with the Princess rejecting the Prince for testing her rather than believing her royal pedigree and seeing well fed and warm people sing Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody around a Christmas tree while the match girl watches from outside in the cold is enough to bring tears to your eyes.
But it’s not all misery - indeed there is plenty of cheeky humour especially when the Emperor struts out in next to nothing and the Shuteye troupe sing and dance.
It is a beautiful production, wonderfully staged and acted by a top notch cast including Paul Hunter as Ole Shuteye and puppeteer Edie Edmundson who manipulates the match girl puppet. 
And there are some nice touches including Ole’s sly aside that “candles are much more atmospheric than boring old electricity”, a nod to the recent controversy over Emma Rice’s use of modern lighting in the main house.
But it’s when we leave the auditorium and step out into the chill winter air that the folk and fairy stories we’ve been watching become so relevant to our times - child poverty and homelessness - they are all around us.

The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales is on at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Bankside, until Sunday, January 22. Tickets from £15. Visit for full listings.

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