Reviewed by Nigel Chester
Last night (7 March 2018) I felt time travel was real and somehow between Cromford and Buxton I had lost a hundred or so years. We negotiated snowbound roads to find ourselves in the Edwardian Buxton Opera House. It has been said that the Opera House is a near ideal marriage of size, acoustics and decorative beauty and is the best in the country, I wouldn’t disagree with this it is an intimate space that was perfectly placed to host the latest contribution from the Shakespeare globe and the Bristol Old Vic.
‘The Little Match Girl and other happier tales’, Emma Rice’s last creation before leaving her role as artistic director at Shakespeare’s globe.
I knew that with the combination of Shakespeare’s globe, Buxton Opera House and Hans Christian Andersen we would be in for a treat, what came as a surprise was the synergy of it.
In human history we have always told stories, we fashion them to meet our own needs, we change them to suit the audience we add to then and embroider them but what Andersen did was beyond any of that he used pain to highlight beauty. His stories aren’t about happy people getting easy lives they were socially relevant then and are now. Who didn’t cry for the little mermaid who walked on knives and had her tongue cut out. She didn’t get her man.
The little match girl, an unnamed child who for us was brought to life beautifully by puppeteer Edie Edmondson, she was ever present on stage but was invisible as every movement of the ward was exquisitely executed.
Our evening’s entertainment began with a trio of musicians playing in the corner of the stage, they played as we settled into our comfortable seats there was no curtain raising moment, others joined them and our story began, the perils of a lone child on the street.
Ole Shuteye the narrator and ringmaster of our troupe introduced himself and got the audience talking back “It’s not television you know” there are intangible qualities to being a good actor if you notice the work it means that the actor is not skilled in his craft. Niall Ashdown became the storyteller and this role in his skilled hands was perfection, he led us through four of Andersen’s stories starting with Thumbelina, we feared for her as she got lost; the melding of Katy Owen and her tiny charge was mesmerising, they became one. Thumbelina was afraid, she was outcast, and alone, found and once again put in mortal danger. She ran away only to be recaptured by a eviller force, in this case it wasn’t out of the frying pan into the fire it was away from the rog and into the arms of the mole- eventually, unusually for Andersen, Thumbelina found happiness and flew away with the swallow. We had tiny candle lit villages and singing bugs, the music was traditional and folksy our little band backing “The Shuteyes”.
The little match girl lights her second match and Ole Shuteye, another Andersen character from the sandman, continues his evenings storytelling with the emperor’s new clothes. Ashdown took the role of the emperor and gave us some of the biggest laughs of the evening. He was topical and relevant to today’s political landscape as Andersen was two hundred years ago. When trying to decide whether or not he was wearing clothes we did feel like we were once again negotiating Brexit.
With music and dance the company moved to the third story illuminated by the little match girls last match, this time the Princess and the pea. The acting once again captivating the prince was Guy Hughes, both dashing and debonair, his pain was loneliness he asked the rhetorical question, is it pain when it is self-induced? The answer to his plight sweeps in on a stormy night in the form of Kezrena James. The prince tests to see if she is indeed a real princess by placing a pea under a huge pile of mattresses, even though she passes the test he loses her as she will not be with anyone who can’t trust her.
Our fourth and final story is that of the little match girl herself she has been witness to the evening’s entertainment, but she makes shuteye tell her story in spite of his protestations she opens the beautifully crafted storybook and he must begin. Hers is the saddest story of them all, as the scene draws to a close the world that we have been enjoying comes into sharp focus and we understand all before us – breath taking.
This amazing production was sublime, every moment a treasure, every costume or word could not be improved upon. I felt that I had spent the evening remembering my imagination. I was a child again and my mother was near.
Tickets cost from £18 to £25 (booking fees may apply).
The Little Matchgirl is at the Buxton Opera House from 7-10 March 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit buxtonoperahouse.org.uk or call the box office on 01298 72190.
Buxton Opera House, Water Street, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 6XN | 01298 72190