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Review: The Little Match Girl, Theatre Royal Bath

Outrageously original....has attracted a cult following....not suitable for under-eights....all phrases which indicate you are likely to experience an unusual and thought-provoking piece of theatre.

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By Alison Phillips ?

Outrageously original....has attracted a cult following....not suitable for under-eights....all phrases which indicate you are likely to experience an unusual and thought-provoking piece of theatre. So the audience on Friday night couldn't say they hadn't been warned The Tiger Lillies' UK premiere of their latest work was certainly shocking, startling and surprising. Some people might also have found it dismal, depressing and even dangerous.

Tiger Lillies' founder Martin Jacques, who wrote and sings the songs which convey the story - an hour of purely musical theatre, verging on an operetta - has certainly created an original piece, beautifully performed on traditional and modern instruments and by three very talented actors.

Victorian burlesque, pathos and drama were there aplenty, along with an impressive range of vocals ranging from falsetto to deep dark bass, performed in a style which, at its creepiest, made me think of Haitian voodoo practitioners and the hypnotic way they are supposed to raise the spirits of the undead.

Bob Goody and Laetitia Angot, as the old man and the little match girl, took on the challenge of bringing this creation to life magnificently, giving wordless performances in which each minute gesture telegraphed emotion. The telescopic set, designed by Dick Bird, was a triumph.

A comfortable show it was not - think Tim Burton meets Moulin Rouge - as initial comedy met tragedy head-on.

The Little Match Girl is a grim little fairytale, one of Hans Christian Anderson's darker fables, not as well known to modern children as it is to their parents. Perhaps they thought it too sad to use as a bedtime story. Which could be why there were fewer children than I had expected in Friday night's audience - and some of those got rather a shock.

?He could have written at least one cheerful song. Every time he started in a minor key you knew that another sad one was coming,? remarked my 13-year-old afterwards. Mr Jacques can rest assured, however, that the piece?s message, sadly still as relevant as when the story was written in 1848, does get through to children.

?I didn?t expect it to be so sad,? said the 10-year-old (I purposely hadn?t briefed them, and the programme notes gave no hints clear enough for them to pick up). ?I guessed she was going to die in the end - but it was awful when the old man was so sad that he hadn?t been nicer.?

The manner of the little match girl?s demise certainly caused a stir, with gasps and a couple of suppressed cries of horror, mainly from the younger audience members, and sharply indrawn breaths from those of us with stark memories of public information films ? children should never play with freezers.

The Theatre Royal spent all last week enticing families with a week of performances and events, which brought 3,898 visitors through the doors. The Little Match Girl was a reminder that family theatre isn?t just about jolly puppets and cheerful clowning and can tackle issues that run very deep and dark indeed, possibly bringing the festival to a more downbeat close than might have been intended. Certainly one for older children.

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