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Review: The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales at Bristol Old Vic

As regular readers will know, you won’t catch a Widow Twanky or any ‘he’s behind you’ chants at the Bristol Old Vic‘s Christmas show, but it’s always an entertaining affair.

This year’s festive treat, however, is a bit different.

Rather than one full story with a beginning, a middle and an end, The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales is three stories with some serious messages.

A co-production with Shakespeare’s Globe, it’s a brave choice by Bristol’s 251-year-old theatre which finally fully re-opens in 2018 after extensive refurbishment. (We’re going to miss hanging out backstage though which has been transformed into a bar while the work was completed!)

The action centres around a poor girl on a cold Christmas Eve trying to sell matches to make some money.

She bumps into a troupe of crazy performers called the Shuteyes who on the strike of a match perform a Hans Christian Andersen adventure.

The visuals are stunning with a huge rotating frame switches from street scenes to an opulent palace and the characters performed by the drama troupe are often extreme but consistently entertaining.

One of the biggest stars of the show for us though is the little match girl herself.

She’s no famous actress though; she’s a puppet and an amazingly life-like one at that.

She is always on stage and her presence is mesmerising and her movements unbelievably realistic thanks to the awesome expertise of puppeteer Edie Edmundson.

Niall Ashdown as Ole Shuteye, the leader of the troupe, is the closest thing the Old Vic gets to panto and he has very entertaining moments playing to the crowd.

He leads the little match girl into the stories which begin with the tale of Thumbelina.

This part is, unfortunately, the weakest.

A complex tale, it’s sometimes hard to keep track of what’s going on and it drags a little but Katy Owen is fabulous as Thumbelina who begins the scene as a puppet.

The middle tale, the Emperor’s New Clothes, is fantastic.

Niall Ashdown shines as the naked emperor who graves compliments and attention so much that he’s duped into believing that he’s wearing a magic outfit that only intelligent people can see.

When we got the big reveal as he dropped his robe, the crowd went wild! Don’t worry though; it’s a family show!

Katy Owen stands out once again as the hilarious Germanic trickster.

As we said at the start of this review, it’s a brave choice by the Bristol Old Vic.

It’s at times a sad show and far removed from your traditional panto, but it’s often charming, heartwarming and thought-provoking.

In our eyes, that’s a pretty perfect Christmas night out.

Four out of five from Lifestyle District.

The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales runs at the Bristol Old Vic until 14 January.

The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales – Bristol Old Vic

The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales – Bristol Old Vic

The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales – Bristol Old Vic

The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales – Bristol Old VicAll images by Steve Tanner

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