I saw a beautiful production of The Little Match Girl at Watford Palace Theatre this afternoon. It was 70% magical and 30% bonkers, a most agreeable ratio! I went with my sister and her two daughters; the girls both loved it and gave it the full five stars rating. I wasn't sure what to expect as it is such a sad story, and often endings get softened to make them less tragic for younger viewers. Here, the original tale is followed in broad outline, but the Match Girl gets a celestial afterlife in which she can be happy.
The story is mostly conveyed through dance with some song. The singing is in Italian, but the sense of the lyrics is clear even if the actual words are unfamiliar. The cast were wonderful and I loved the choreography. Two innovative aspects of the staged story allowed for a brilliant dance-off between the Match Girl and a rival match-seller, and a gorgeous sequence where the Match Girl dances with the lamplighter.
In the Andersen tale the girl is able to see through the wall to the festivities within. Here, the plenty that some enjoy is demonstrated by a gloriously over the top family, who sing and dance wishing everyone a Happy Christmas whilst pointedly ignoring the Match Girl's plight completely. It makes a definite point about hypocrisy and the consequences of turning your back on those in need. Unfortunately, this is still pertinent nearly 170 years after the story was written.
I really did enjoy the show, although I was a little unsure about the scene on the moon. It's an unusual addition to the story I think. It did feel very different in tone to the rest of the play, although the lunar dance was charming. The epilogue scene brought me right back to a magical place though; the tear in the eye moment arrived!
There are a few more performances scheduled around the country in the next two months, details can be found on the choreographer's website. If there's one near you I'd definitely recommend seeing the show.
Of course, I couldn't let the opportunity to re-read the original Hans Christian Andersen tale go. There's a lovely illustrated (and free) online version of Andersen's Fairy Tales available via Project Gutenberg. This link takes you straight to The Little Match Girl. Remember to have a hankie nearby before reading.