Image courtesy of Anthony Timothy
Theatr Clwyd has done it again.
They’ve gone and knocked it out of the park with this performance, a heart-warming rendition of a collection of fairy tales suited for young and not-so-young alike.
Music, magic, fantasy, puppets, dreams, and plenty of fire, there is all of this and more from The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales.
Straight out of the Bristol Old Vic and Shakespeare’s Globe in London, critically acclaimed producer Emma Rice brings her perfect theatrical experience to the North Wales based theatre, and though we’re well and truly done with Christmas for this year, there’s still a little bit of magic floating through the air.
The Little Matchgirl tells the story of a young child who spends the cold, bitter night on the street. Her only form of solace is her dwindling box of matches, which, through the help of storyteller ‘Old Shuteye’ can tell stories of glory and sorrow when lit.
Old Shuteye’s stories take The Little Matchgirl to a world where a tiny girl called Thumbelina takes on the world and falls in love. This rendition takes most of the first half of the play to tell, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it does make you aware that the second half has to deal with two full stories as well as the play’s conclusion. Thankfully, the second half is stronger and, if anything, more enjoyable than the first, even with shortened story lengths.
The play features plenty of music from the play’s band, including guitarists Jon Gingell and Alex Heane, and bass player Dave Johnzy. The jazzy notes and sombre tones match the play’s sense of pace and placement perfectly and each new refrain complements the actors and actresses better than the last. Added to that is the vocal talents of the likes of Old Shuteye and co., bringing enjoyment and melancholy to every scene.
The second half, which I thought was more enjoyable than the first, featured more stories from Old Shuteye, including a hilarious performance inspired by the Emporer’s New Clothes. The play is enjoyable throughout regardless of this scene, but Niall Ashdown (who also plays Old Shuteye) did a wonderful job of bringing the Emporer’s…interesting new clothes to the play with outstanding deliverance. Whilst the play isn’t your typical pantomime affair, Ashdown makes the audience feel as involved in the action on stage as possible, and breaks down that ever so frail fourth wall time and time again.
To wrap up the stories, Old Shuteye uses one of the Little Matchgirl’s last remaining matches to tell the tale of the Princess and the Pea with an impressive balancing act atop multiple mattresses.
Everybody comes together with the impressive ensemble of performers, and the crowd were in hysterics throughout…until the last few scenes. This being a Hans Christian Anderson story, there’s an air of unhappiness and dread present, and as the Little Matchgirl reaches her last match, well, let’s just say that not even the Muppets took me on that much of an emotional rollercoaster!
9/10 – A Definite Good Time, Guaranteed! The performances were top-notch, the music was wonderful, and the storyline was full of magic and splendour. The only thing that might deter you are the puppets (I know somebody don’t like puppets), but the actors put on such a good show and the play is so immersive, you barely notice.
The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales will be on stage from Tuesday 30th January until Saturday 3rd February – so snap up a ticket whilst you can. There are performances every night at 7:30pm, with matinees on Thursday 1st February at 1pm and Saturday 3rd at 2:30pm.
The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales, starring Niall Ashdown, Guy Hughes, Kezrina James, Katy Owen, Karl Queensborough, Elizabeth Westcott, and Edie Edmundson as the puppeteer for the Little Matchgirl and directed by Emma Rice, on stage at Theatr Clwyd from 30th January until 3rd February.