Theatre review: The Little Match Girl, Theatr Clwyd

Reporter:

Jamie Bowman

The Little Matchgirl is the show that changed my perpetual fear of puppets into something heart-melting.

I'm not going to lie, the first five minutes of the new production resembled those times as a child you walked in on some overstated and brash TV show -  everyone else travelling in line at 100 miles per hour, while your young self laughs along with hopeless understanding at the pandemonium ahead.

So the first thing I learnt within scene one was not to try and understand this performance - "the mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled."

It is difficult, almost impossible to try and not be drawn in to the crazy, haphazard world of the 'Old Shuteye' storyteller and his jesters, where costumes are as sporadic and colourful as facial expressions, and where a pause in flowing conversation or normal walk on-stage is unheard of.

Despite the whirlwind of stage direction and sound, the one steadfast element that made me close my eyes in serenity more than a handful of times was the string folk band which, for once, took pride of place on stage.

The shabby clothed guitarist, banjo player, and bassist were as much as the story for me as the creepy-yet-lovable heroine. Try Mumford & Sons meet north Wales Tegeingl.

Hands down, Elizabeth Westcott - who also plays the comically charming Jackson - is the best viola player I've heard in some time. Stunning.

It's correct that the "patchwork of crazy fun" displays the talent of director Emma Rice and writer Joel Horwood, who both co-adapted three folk tales and one poignant reality check into a heart-lifting musical poem.

The Thumbelina section - without spoiling anything for future viewers- put a lump in my throat at the least expected time. Normally, the erratic pace of plays like this gets on my nerves but somehow the tempo of The Little Matchgirl was perfect to make you feel one thing, forget you feel it, then feel another contrasting emotion. Safe to say, I shed a tiny tear when the swallow fell for the tiny protagonist puppet and turned her into a human (the amazing Katy Owen who is a pint-sized institution in herself.)

Each actor brought something different to the play which is a cliché at its best, I'm aware. But it amazed me yet again how such a small cast can pull off something so broad and deep with such a limited time and set. It goes to show there is really no need to travel far to witness raw talent and above all, passion, for the job.

My favourite line of the play was in the final love story of The Princess and the Pea, which summed up the production for me as a whole - and induced a mini-epiphany I will carry forever - "If your cheeks hurt from smiling can you really call it pain?"

Theatr Clwyd have once again managed to encapsulate what it is to be a child and projected it magnificently through adult-tinted glasses.

While the comic elements had even the largest and stone-faced viewers sniggering in adult jest, the message in the final scene left the audience in silence and contemplation.

From the warmth and joviality of a little Matchgirl playing with her new imaginary friends, to a dead-pan street filled with hungry and frozen homeless, this production promises to carry the audience on a rainbow of emotions.

N.B. Never have I ever seen the "I can see a rainbow" kid's song turned into a Glastonbury-esque crowd pleaser, complete with stomping and clapping.

Having said that, never have I ever cried at a production in Theatr Clwyd (from emotion and human empathy, not as a four year old frightened of the dame in the Panto.)

If you want to be immersed in a world of love, loss, puppetry and enchantment, light a match and up your sticks to Theatr Clwyd's The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales.

Email:

jamie.bowman@nwn.co.uk

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