You don’t need to be even 10 years old to recognise the cruelty and injustice inherent in this tale of The Little Match Girl. It’s a story that has been drawn and adapted from the vast back catalogue of folk stories that Hans Christian Andersen (and his partner/s) collected – in Denmark and beyond – throughout the 19th century.
A poor girl is trying to sell matches on the street to raise coins to buy food and warmth. There are one or two rats in the gutter and the sound of a medieval hurdy-gurdy. But she still runs and jumps and leaps for joy.
As we took our seats in the Dome Corn Exchange the mood of the evening was already being carefully set. Frank Moon – our musician for the evening, on stage right – was stroking plaintiff electric chords on his guitar. This mixed the fuzzing with the melodic.
Consistent with the mood for the drama ahead, Frank accompanied himself with a soulful harmonica. Those sounds were superbly in tune with the trajectory of the tale and complemented the subtle hue of lights.
From the outset, as the audience arrived, they began staring at an enormous projection of the moon at the back of the stage.
Otherwise, the scenery was suitably modest. We saw a simple sketch structure of the townscape which resembled a medieval Italian village on a hill top. At first there was some joy and dancing with people that our match girl might join. There was a jolly man lighting lamp posts. She stood on his shoulder: so life could be fun? But watch out!
As the evening wore on, those cute friendly houses started locking their doors, closing their windows, and shooing her away. She only had a penny or two. The Little Match Girl held her little sticks and ran. The village didn’t seem very safe.
Now she is hiding behind gravestones, out in the cold, alone. The only bright thing is the Moon. Now there’s an idea. Could you find a ladder big enough? But surely it’s impossible? Is she crazy? It’s not possible. You can’t escape to the Moon, or can you?
Nowadays, we know there’s nothing on the Moon, there’s no air, there’s no life. Even Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong didn’t think it was worth going back.
Of course, this tale is more metaphorical than scientific. But Hans Christian Andersen could certainly have imagined his poor and desperate protagonist finding a new home across the ether. Curiously, The American Heritage Dictionary reckons that ‘the ether’ represents the “regions of space beyond the earth’s atmosphere” or “the heavens”.
Bearing in mind the cruel life of poverty our young heroine lived, our Little Match Girl would probably have settled for the heavens.
Directed and choreographed by Arthur Pita, this performance combined extraordinary and beautiful lighting effects, movement and dramatic action with a solid tale of poverty and exclusion that is startling and contemporary. It’s for children. It’s for adults. Go see it. Go feel it.
The Dome Corn Exchange, Wednesday 20th December 2023
Photos by Phil Conrad