Retelling the Hans Christian Andersen tale, Arthur Pita’s child-friendly dance production is gleeful, angry and wonderfully unexpected. His characters scamper from an imaginary Italy to the moon and back, with live music from Frank Moon that varies from full-throated song to bizarre sound effects and tinkling music boxes.
It’s a story of winter poverty, a little girl struggling to sell matches in the street, dismissed by rich passers-by and bullied by rival sellers. She’s buoyed up by memories of her grandmother and dreams of happiness. The material could have been maudlin, but Pita sidesteps that with bold characterisation and whirling invention.
As the match girl, Corey Claire Annand is waifish but not wet. There’s a lush scale to her movement, and sparks of anger as she deals with her troubles. These include a full cast of brilliantly horrible villains. Valentina Golfieri is emphatic as the rival seller, swaggering about and always ready to shout louder. She also has Karl Fagerlund Brekke as scary backup: they hold fistfuls of long matches as if they were knuckledusters, with an eerie swishing noise when they swing their arms.
Then there are the appalling rich family, dressed by Yann Seabra in a riot of Victorian frills and bobbles, all bright colours and cold hearts. Brekke and Golfieri return as the mother and her nasty daughter, with Angelo Smimmo as the pontificating father. They’re satisfyingly hateable, whether singing carols or hoarding roast turkey while rejecting the match girl’s pleas.
Then there’s the airy fantasy of the happier scenes. A kindly lamplighter (Brekke) dances with the match girl, letting her perch on his shoulders or shin up the lighting pole. In her memories, she sees her grandmother (Smimmo), who sings operatic lullabies and snuggles up in a sparkly shawl. In the original tale, the match girl dreams of going into the skies; Pita’s version comes with a friendly astronaut, whose spaceship needs the help of our heroine’s match for ignition.
The whole production is quick and deft. In Seabra’s witty sets, the town streets are pulled on by sledges, while a huge moon shines over the action. For the lunar scenes, the grandmother turns it round, to reveal a glowing image of the earth. Played live by the composer, the music is as quirky and effective as the storytelling, with Moon wheeling out ever odder instruments.
Until 24 December, 020 7863 8000, sadlerswells.com
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