Union Theatre, London – until 23 December 2018
For those in search of a heartwarming and charmingly unique Christmas show, you might want to pay a visit to the Union Theatre.
Cosy and charming are just two words that fit this lovely little musical inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl, reminding us the power of compassion, hope and understanding – a really fitting choice for the Union Theatre at this time of year.
Striking 12 follows Brendan who is fed up and miserable on New Year’s Eve, with his fiancee having left him and his job making him miserable. So the last thing he wants to do is celebrate New Year’s Eve with his friends – despite their best efforts. But thanks to a chance encounter with a light bulb seller, he decides to read Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. Can reading this help put him in a more positive frame of mind at the end of the year?
Oliver Kaderbhai’s concise and neat production enchantingly brings the story to life to leave the audience feeling warm in the heart. It has a great energy and pace about it from beginning to end to sweep the audience on Brendan’s journey along with him. Kaderbhai’s production also effectively captures the quirkiness of the musical, particularly using the ensemble to great effect as a variety of characters (when they aren’t also playing instruments) that keeps the audience thoroughly entertained.
There is also a magical element to the show as well, thanks to Alex Lewer’s gorgeous and mesmerising lighting, that helps to capture the idea that there is always light in the darkness if you choose to look for it – as Brendan soon discovers. Meanwhile, Natalie Johnson’s creative set design fits well into the Union Theatre’s space and keeps the production feeling cosy and intimate.
Despite the musical itself being only roughly eighty minutes in length, it feels as though the story takes time to settle and reveal itself that suggests perhaps there could be some room for further development. But the book by Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda and Rachel Sheinkin still has plenty to entertain – particularly in terms of the variety of characters wonderfully portrayed by the cast in this production.
Another delight is the exciting variety of musical styles incorporated into the score from the jazzy ‘Green & Red (And I’m Feeling Blue)’ to the hauntingly beautiful ‘Wonderful’. Each song works strongly within the story, while enhancing the emotions experienced by the characters. Particularly impressive is the super speedy ‘The Sales Pitch’ that is strongly performed by Brendan and the light bulb seller – who knew it was possible to sing at quite that speed?
Performance wise there is plenty to enjoy. Bronte Barbe’s charmingly sweet and positive performance as the light bulb seller to then transform into The Match Girl – highlighting both their vulnerability tinged with hope makes for a wonderfully delicate performance that works well. This makes for a perfect match for Declan Bennett’s cantankerous Brendan, who gradually softens the more drawn in to The Match Girl. Meanwhile, Danielle Kassarate is wonderfully effective as the narrator – almost like a Jiminy Cricket character keeping Brendan on track and Kate Robson-Staurt and Leon Scott wonderfully portray a number of quirky characters distinctively.
Overall, Striking 12 is a quirky, heartwarming and immensely enjoyable production to watch, ensuring that you leave the theatre in a positive frame of mind and a smile on your face.
By Emma Clarendon
Striking 12 will continue to play at the Union Theatre until the 23rd December. For more information and to book tickets visit: http://uniontheatre.biz/striking-12.html