“tells a festive story with a hilarious mix of cheer and cynicism”
It’s New Year’s Eve and Brendan is working late. Dejected and bored, he is in no mood to celebrate but a chance encounter with a girl changes everything. Striking 12 is a warm and funny retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Match Girl. Set in modern New York, this production has updated the classic fairy tale with a sweetness that does not lose the touching sadness of the original story.
Declan Bennett and Bronté Barbé do a good job as the titular characters Brendan and the Match Girl. Barbé plays the vulnerable fairy tale Match Girl as well as the modernised one who sells Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) lamps instead of matches. This may seem like a bizarre way to update the story, but it works well to paint a picture of Brendan as an overworked bah-humbug New Yorker. With exposed brick walls, malleable staging and use of vintage lighting, the Union Theatre is also a wonderful space for a show set in New York. The use of matchboxes as tickets and matches on stage was also a great added touch.
Along with the talented Andrew Linnie on piano, Kate Robson-Stuart and Leon Scott brilliantly switch between acting and playing multiple instruments to infuse the story with perfect comedic timing. There are some fantastic numbers, particularly ‘Matches for Sale’ and its reprise in ‘Say What?’ Put together, the songs tell the story of The Little Match Girl, and then self-consciously play with what a modernised version of the story would look like. In doing so, Oliver Kaderbhai’s careful direction blends the tenderness of the fairy tale with modern wit. The show’s real magic is held in the hands of Danielle Kassaraté whose Narrator is effortlessly charismatic, adding some fantastic moments of empathy and humour.
This is a tight performance that strikes the right tone throughout. Without falling into the trap of irritating unwarranted optimism that so often taints musicals at this time of year, Striking 12 tells a festive story with a hilarious mix of cheer and cynicism. It will end the year with a lovely, simple message: that sharing some sincere festive spirit can make us less sad, and failing that, there’s SAD lamps.
It is the last moments of 1937 in Soviet Azerbaijan and the clocks have stopped. The neighbour has just been taken away but Man (Colin Burnicle) works for the Party and has just received protection. Him and Woman (Norma Butikofer) are ready to open their black market champagne when they hear a knock on the door. Someone has a quota to fill. And he isn’t from the NKVD.
Based on the play ‘Citizens of Hell’ by one of Azerbaijan’s leading literary voices, Elchin, Timothy Knapman (book and lyrics) and Laurence Mark Wythe (music and lyrics) have created a highly impactful, beautifully-crafted musical. What are people prepared to do to survive, it asks, and how many lies are people prepared to tell those closest to them? As the couple are forced to face what they have each done, a harsh light is shone on this culture of fear and the limits that it pushes people to.
The fantastic actor-musician ensemble, dusted in white, edge the space, a perpetual haunting presence as they revolve between victims of the purges, colleagues and friends. Leon Scott’s visitor is enthralling onstage. He has an infectious presence and an irresistible charm, that feels wonderfully dichotomous against the chaos and confusion he leaves in his wake. Burnicle and Butikofer as the couple cracking beneath the pressure of their revelations, deliver nuanced and convincing performances, as the characters are pushed to their extremes.
Elliot Squire’s set raises their apartment just slightly, a traditional setting complete with a lounge area and dining table. The edges of this space are illuminated, a contemporary finish that creates a thin boundary between the ever-present ensemble and the central set. Stalin’s image hangs large and high above the stage.
It’s an unusual topic for a musical but one that translates surprisingly well. The score meanders between eerie musical moments lead by the ensemble, playful musical comedy segments, and more moving ballads from the couple. There is a lovely simplicity within the score that feels necessary to both the intimacy of the narrative and the size of the space. It is also delivered by a highly competent group of vocalists and musicians.
Moving us with ease between thriller, comedy and drama, this is a complex, well-crafted new musical, delivered by excellent performances, under the strong direction of Kate Golledge.