The Little Match Girl

Review by Flossie Waite
A Moon On A Stick production
Blue Elephant Theatre
For ages 3+

Christmas – the season of joy and goodwill… after a round of pain and sorrow. Nothing screams festive cheer like a tiny crippled boy (A Christmas Carol), a suicidal Dad (It’s A Wonderful Life), or a melting snowman (The Snowman): it seems we just can’t get enough of that dehydrated-from-crying feeling that marks the most magical time of the year. The Little Match Girl slots in nicely to this Christmas canon.

A tired, hungry girl is out in the cold, forced by poverty to sell matches but with little luck. It’s a desperate situation: Her mother is sick. There’s no food in the house. Her beloved grandmother has died. And it’s Christmas Eve. The combination of her kindness and some Christmas magic mean that each time she strikes a match, she receives a wish; the only thing she wants is to see her grandma one last time. And that’s the jazzed-up, cheery version created by Moon On A Stick! In Hans Christian Andersen’s original, the little match girl is dying of hypothermia, but afraid to return home to a father that beats her. She lights matches as the flames keep her warm and the glow reveals visions of the grandmother she misses. When the matches run out, she dies, and joins her grandmother in heaven. So.

Little Match Girl Photo 3 VenetiaWhilst the Anderson version is undeniably traumatic, there’s a balance to be struck between removing some of the story’s darker shades, and completely whitewashing it. The Little Match Girl is a syrupy adaptation, with talk of magic and love filling the air, and Christmas wishes coming true. Just on a practical level, a girl who is freezing wouldn’t wish for snow.

An interesting dynamic emerges between the match girl and the narrator. The girl is outraged to be described as “afraid’, requests that the description of the wind end as it only makes her colder, and hushes the storyteller altogether so that she and her cat may sleep. It would have been good to see this metatheatrical dimension developed further, giving the traditionally defenceless girl greater agency over her own story and how it is told.

The company’s focus on puppetry is unmistakeable – the little match girl’s huge eyes and heart-shaped face offer a mix of warmth and weariness, her grandma is a haunting silvery spirit. These puppets portray a grit that is missing from a script punctuated by giggles. At the risk of sounding like a grinch,  The Little Match Girl could do with a little less Christmas spirit.

Images by Ellen Sussams.

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