If ever there was a tale which exemplified the Christmas season – the disparity between the Haves and Have nots, the joy of one and the despair of the other, this is it. Hans Christian Anderson’s story of the homeless girl fantasising as she dies of hypothermia pulls no punches. There have been many TV, film and theatre versions since it was written in 1845, ranging from maudlin to schmaltz, but this production at the Tabard theatre in Chiswick is spot on. It’s feisty and challenging and calls out the audience for our complacency.
On another level it’s good entertainment with well executed song and dance routines and attractive costumes and set. Emily Cochrane plays the Little Match Girl as a fighter, a survivor who asks and expects no favours and reckons she can fend for herself, until she doesn’t. Jack Ayres is Arthur, the cheeky chappie whose bravado cheers her up but whose own position cleaning boots is perilously close to hers. Aimee Barrett is the merciless prostitute who keeps her out of the house of her father, the inadequate and violent Jebb, played by Rob Hadden, completing the set of selfish and cruel characters brutalised by poverty. The rest of the cast alternate between roles as privileged citizens too busy or too self righteous to help and other street dwellers trying to get by.
What gives the Tabard’s choice of Christmas show extra punch is the knowledge that the themes are just as relevant today as they were more than 170 years ago. 38 year old Elaine Morrall died in Liverpool a few weeks ago wrapped in her coat and scarf indoors because she could not afford to pay for heating and had switched it off until her children got home from school. She had mental problems and her benefit had been stopped after she failed to turn up for a meeting.
The Little Match Girl at the Tabard is highly recommended but take a hanky. Club card members get a £4 discount on tickets. Use the promotional code ‘calendar’ and take your card with you when you go. There will be a collection after the show for Crisis at Christmas.