There is no escaping the mandatory Christmas cheer that shall soon be, or perhaps already is, plaguing your day to day life. Although you may be filling with excitement the closer you get to the festive period, more and more holiday cheer may be weaning its way into your brain with each advent calendar opening, some people do not quite feel the same. Meet Brendan, played by the intensely Americanised Declan Bennett, a self-professed Bah Humbug who is unwilling to participate in any celebrations, namely that of the New Year’s Eve persuasion.
As much of us are this time of year, Brendan is faced with a choice regarding what he shall do to celebrate the coming of a new year. A chance for new resolutions and a time for moving on (in Brendan’s case moving on from his ex-fiancé Diane who does not want him to go to a mutual friend’s party as it will probably just end up being uncomfortable and who really wants that anyway?). The loving narrator, the sweet-faced and kindly Danielle Kassaraté, guides Brendan through his evening of attaining some much-needed happiness through a rediscovery of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Match Girl. Striking 12 recreates the traditionally heart wrenching story of a young and abused girl who wanders the streets trying, and failing, to sell matches to anyone and everyone.
The beautiful score is upheld and embellished by the musically gifted cast whose voices imbue comedy and melancholy, hopeful sadness and self-deprivation. Everything is ‘Fine, Fine, Fine’ they exclaim – it isn’t. At least I think they do, but only when they could be heard over the violin, drums, piano and guitar which occasionally steal the show, a fact I would be more concerned with if they weren’t all so bloody brilliant.
Bronté Barbé, The Match Girl, has a Disney princess-esque voice which embeds the fairy tale further into the modern adaptation. While both Bennett and Barbé were obviously strong choices for the lead figureheads, the chemistry of the ensemble is the main event. If they aren’t riffing off each other, they’re filling in the cracks, breathing fresh life into side characters that swiftly move in to dazzle and spark subtle humour through the audience.
The show displays an expert blend of pop, rock and jazz. As they continue to impress, showcasing their endless, enviable talents by singing rough-throated blues and surprisingly rapping away their problems, the acting is not ditched in favour of melody. The two arts sit side by side, wrapped closely in a brilliant embrace. Leon Scott, a multi-talented member of the ensemble, plays the drums, then the guitar, then sings and then funnily mimics an annoyingly persistent answering machine. It is a triumph. There is even some nicely choreographed dance.
However, behind all the song and cheer, it’s hard not to draw parallels between this discussion of the starvation and pennilessness of The Match Girl, and the many, many homeless men and women who are currently out cold on the streets of London. The change of heart which fuels Brendan’s desire to help the young and optimistic sales woman, who is firmly convinced of the existence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (which I believe is definitely a thing), should instil a sense of kindness into our own hearts. We must make sure that not only are we ok, rather than just ‘Fine’, but that as a community we look out for one another. Some do not even have a match to keep them warm.
Striking 12 is playing Union Theatre until December 23. For more information and tickets, click here.