Tag Archives: Mike Leopold

Review of The Little Match Girl – 3 Stars


The Little Match Girl

Tabard Theatre

Reviewed – 8th December 2017


“the score is filled with wit, melody and emotion”


‘The Little Match Girl’, adapted from Hans Christian Anderson’s classic fairy tale is an enchanting musical running at the Tabard Theatre over the festive period. First performed forty years ago at the Orange Tree Theatre (under its original title ‘Scraps’), it was later adapted for television in the eighties featuring Twiggy and Roger Daltrey. That it is being revived now with the composer Keith Strachan directing is quite a coup, and testament to the theatre’s (and producer Simon Reilly’s) ever growing reputation for staging quality productions.

Set in a wintry, Victorian London, the ‘Little Match Girl’ of the title is out on the streets selling matches, and is not allowed home with her father until she has sold them all. It is a beautiful yet achingly sad tale, full of contradictions: the story paints a dismal picture of life for the poor in Victorian London, but it also carries a grim hope. We are plunged into this world as soon as we enter the auditorium. Mike Leopold’s steely set (complete with snow) is enhanced by Tom Huxley’s sound design – alternating between a cutting, cold wind and the hubbub of street markets and carol singers.

The real challenge for the writers is that the original story is a very slim one indeed. So fleshing it out into a full length musical is quite a task. Consequently the interest needs to hinge on the characters and the music. This doesn’t always succeed, but when it does, one is transported – the score is filled with wit, melody and emotion and the ensemble acting and singing filled with gusto that sweeps you along.

Recent graduate Emily Cochrane, in the title role, gives a very watchable and convincing performance. Waif like, quirky and vulnerable there are shades of a young Shirley Henderson about her. It is sometimes not easy to tell, though, whether the action is in her head or actually happening. The lines between her dreams and the reality are often blurred. In fact, overall, the production could have benefitted from a clearer distinction between the surrealism and the naturalism inherent in the narrative.

Likewise there could have been more light and shade in the musical arrangements. Though, saying that, there is a lovely simplicity to the songs which, to be fair, is probably the intention. With Musical Director, Richie Hart, almost single-handedly providing the accompaniment, there is a refreshing absence of trying to be clever. The lyrics, too, tell it like it is. The score notably includes the Ivor Novello Award-winning song ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ which went on to become a Christmas No.1 single for Cliff Richard. The musical highlights though are ‘Richman’s Banquet’ sung by Anthony Williamson with a manic dark humour (with a wonderful twist at the end), and Aimee Barrett (who also choreographs) singing the show-stopping ‘An Ordinary Life’.

As an alternative to the traditional Panto on offer, there is enough magic in this show to put you in the festive mood. The message is indeed worthy – that our imagination can give us comfort, solace and reprieve from so many of life’s hardships – but it’s a message told here in an entertaining and life-affirming way; complete with laughter, and maybe the odd tear too.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Alastair Hilton



The Little Match Girl

is at the Tabard Theatre until 31st December 2017



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The Wasp Jermyn Street


Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 1st August 2017





“tension was sorely lacking, and the play’s violent denouement was a damp squib



Jermyn Street Theatre is a little gem of a venue a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus. It was great to see a sold-out house for the opening night of The Wasp, and the quality set design on display (excellent work by Mike Leopold) promised an evening’s theatre to match. For this reviewer, alas, that promise was not fulfilled.

The Wasp Jermyn Street

The Wasp by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm is a two-handed thriller, in which a pair of estranged school friends meet as adults, and a train of events is set in motion fuelled by a couple of violent incidents in their shared past. This is a tried-and-tested formula, and despite one genuinely surprising plot twist, formulaic is how the writing felt. The monologues felt like set pieces, and the dialogue was often over-explanatory; there was never enough work for the audience to do. This was particularly true in the exposition of the play’s central symbolic image – the parasitic tarantula hawk moth – but equally present in the women’s conversation. ‘It looks like we’re more like each other than we thought then, eh?’ Carla says at one point. There’s more fun for the audience in seeing that for itself.

The Wasp Jermyn Street

Similarly, the characters themselves rarely strayed beyond stereotype. From the moment we meet them – Carla, all fake tan and gold, heavily pregnant and smoking a fag, and Heather, dressed from the Browns catalogue and drinking a camomile tea – the two women remain trapped in the tropes of their class background. Lisa Gorgin (Carla) and Selina Giles (Heather) worked well together, and there was some lovely detail in each performance, but despite the emotional reveal at the play’s heart, there was little scope for them to go beyond the skin-deep. As a result, tension was sorely lacking, and the play’s violent denouement was a damp squib. On-stage violence is frequently difficult to pull off, and the play needed stronger directorial decisions here, to enable credibility in such an intimate space.

The Wasp Jermyn Street

It would have been interesting to see where Anna Simpson (Director) could have taken us with less naturalistic emphasis. There was a nod to a slightly more abstract theatrical language in the transition between Scene 1 and 2, but it didn’t go far enough, and, as a result, what could have been an eerie interlude came across as as a slightly clumsy scene change. The trouble with naturalism is that it is easy to set situations up for a fall; I, for one, have never known a heavily pregnant woman last so long without needing a pee, and we all know what a mess knives make.

In a world saturated with (often excellent) television thrillers, the theatre can only hold its own by drawing on its strengths. The Wasp failed to deliver on these, and thus was devoid of sting.

Photography by Andreas Grieger




is at Jermyn Street Theatre until 12th August


Jermyn Street Theatre




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