In a small theatre with only black curtains and a few ‘snow’-covered boxes for scenery, three pyjama and Santa hat-clad women greet the audience – children especially – with warm smiles and waves as we take our seats in the intimate, pillow-laden space. Despite a few technical problems with the sound that night, the calm atmosphere and cosy setting had us ready for a story.
Using puppets and songs, The Little Match Girl retells the classic story of the little girl left outside in the cold on Christmas Eve to sell matches. Big eyes and rosy cheeks certainly makes the puppet who portrays the title character cute, but it’s the fluid movements and emotion-filled voice that brings her to life and allows us to sympathise with her as a character. Even with the actress still in plain site, your focus goes to the little match girl herself as she shivers, sings and goes through a number of Christmas adventures brought about by lighting each match.
The show, though, is definitely stolen by the cast of inventively made and helmed puppets, who appear with each strike of the match. A ginger cat named Pirate had the children in the theatre entranced and delighted as it rollicked through the audience; a snowman that can break himself up into three parts adds some fun energy and mischief into the show; and some scary rats are ingeniously created using just the actress’s hands and some small lights. As someone who believes puppets are creepy by their very nature, I must give kudos to Alice Sillet and Maia Kirkman-Richards, the puppet-makers who created this enchanting and lovable cast, and the actresses – Kirkman-Richards, Venetia Twigg and Isabela Sharman – who give the puppets life and playful personalities that draw the audience in and keep the production fun, all while singing and narrating too.
The one thing I question in this show is the changed ending. Instead of the tragic conclusion we all know this classic tale has, The Little Match Girl ends on a much more vague note. You could easily interpret the visit the last match brings to the girl’s dead grandmother as a thinly veiled metaphor for the match girl’s own passing. However, a trip back down to earth where she’s greeted by her animal friends and a new pair of shoes from Santa seems to negate that. An ending like this does save you an awkward conversation with your five-year-old about life and death later, and I can see why it was done, but it means the show misses the chance to say something that could have been very powerful.
Despite my qualms with the ending, The Little Match Girl ends up being a magical children’s show. Its minimal but creative set gives the show a homemade feel that is still imbued with magic, and the amazing puppetry is not only beautifully charming, but totally entranced the children in the audience. Overall, this is a cosy show full of charm and magic that’s sure to delight any small child.
The Little Match Girl is playing at the Blue Elephant Theatre until 16 December. For more information and tickets, see the Blue Elephant Theatre website.