Review: The Little Match Girl at Liverpool Playhouse

Photo: Steve Tanner

By Andy Green

THIS was billed as a show for 8 year olds and over, there were warnings about real flames and a naked body suit, we were told it would be dark. Fair enough, know what to expect then.

Ooh no.

Shakespeare’s Globe and Bristol Old Vic’s co-production of The Little Match Girl is barely five minutes in and the scene is set for some very dark goings on. Our eponymous (puppet) heroine is shivering in the street, selling her matches when a soldier comes along wanting a light for his cigarette. Once he’s made his purchase he takes the little girl’s hand and attempts to lead her away – aw, a kindly Mr Brownlow type of character we think – nope! We learn that his intentions are totally sinister as an onlooker yells at him to ‘leave her alone, we know your game’ etc.

Call me old fashioned – I think smoking on stage is a bit iffy for 8 year olds… but attempted paedophilia! I accept there’s an argument that children should be made aware of such things and that also it may have just gone over their heads – like an incredibly dark pantomime. But, nevertheless, it left this reviewer feeling decidedly uncomfortable given the age guidance for the show.

The Little Match Girl is a collection of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales – three to be precise – each of them triggered by lighting a match and the help of Niall Ashdown’s irrepressible Ole Shuteye and friends.

Ashdown is obviously enjoying himself in the role and the (possibly scripted) ad libs fly freely, as do the local references which tend to grate after a while – but that’s just me being a grump.

Thumbelina is the first fairy tale up and the darkness continues, albeit with plenty of laughs along the way. The gloom in this segment takes the form of domestic abuse as Thumbelina is enslaved by a villainous mole only to be rescued by a swallow in a wonderfully choreographed fight scene – I felt some of those kicks!

Next up is The Emperor’s New Clothes, we all know this story and what it entails and, yes, we were warned there would be a naked body suit. But oh my! I wasn’t expecting that – it actually reminded me of a taxi driver I once knew but the least said about that the better. It doesn’t leave anything to the imagination and again you have to question if this is suitable for 8 year olds. Great fun though.

Third up is The Princess and the Pea, which, although very well done, felt a tad superfluous and my thoughts were wandering towards the bar.

This show doesn’t end on a high note and it’s not supposed to. It’s bleak, very bleak.

The Little Match Girl is brilliantly performed by all concerned, it looks great and I really enjoyed it. But…as much as I value unsettling theatre, this production loses half a star for the inappropriate age guidance.