Bristol Old Vic

The Little Matchgirl

December 2017

Unhappy Christmas?


What makes a home? This is the question, poet and fairytale author, Hans Christian Anderson posed in his heartbreaking story published in 1845. A homeless, frozen, dying little girl lights matches to warm herself and which spark visions of a life she’d love to live.
How does this translate onto the 21st Century stage at the Bristol Old Vic? Easily, movingly and charmingly in the capable hands of writer, Joel Horwood and Director, Emma Rice. 
It was with trepidation I sat with my 13-year-old daughter, wondering if I’d be weeping for two hours. Out stepped the mesmerising Matchgirl controlled by expert puppeteer, Edie Edmonson.

The puppet-child silently glides the stage in ethereal darkness to the sound of sirens and seeming rescuers who turn out to be predators.

The only thing that rankled in the play was the soldier that appeared about to molest her – no need for the uniform.
The Matchgirl’s silence captivates because children don’t have a voice, then or now, when it comes to safety. It could so easily be the bleakest Christmas show ever but for Horwood’s and Rice’s Other Happier Tales which are illuminated by the little girl’s matches.

These elevate and switch this dark of fairytale into a spectacular which never loses sight of its tender moral heart. We must be kind and caring and protective of the vulnerable. Surely, the truest of Christmas messages?  
Anderson’s other classic stories are interwoven with the help of amazing Vaudeville-like clown, Ole Shuteye, (Niall Ashdown) and his quirky, steam-punk cast who dance and prance the audience through the tales (and makes them laugh) with the help of moles, beetles that salsa, field mouse, butterfly and frogs who demand marriage. It’s a skilful, colourful extravaganza.
There’s tiny, courageous orphan refugee, Thumbelina, escaping a war-torn city, via the sea, to enslavement and escape with the aid of a beautiful swallow, the hilarious Princess and the Pea and for me, The Emperor’s  New Clothes which was sheer and utter tasteless exuberance with a side-splitting naked denouement, loved by kids and adults.
At the end of the performance you have the chance to donate to St Mungo’s, a charity which works to provide homes and support. I expect it did well.

Then we stepped out onto the city streets and saw the many freezing figures huddled under old blankets in dark doorways. You wonder what Hans Christian Anderson would have said about what makes a home today?

Melanie Greenwood

  • The Little Match Girl and Other Happier Stories' is on at Bristol Old Vic until Thursday, January 14. Suitable for children aged eight plus.Tickets from £7.50 to £35.50.