Theatre preview: The Little Match Girl Passion @ Traverse, Edinburgh

Published by METRO

The fall of autumn leaves and the rise of the winter sun. Miles Davis’s trumpet and Bill Evans’s piano. Cheese and wine. Isn’t it great when two different things can work so well together? When one entity complements another so well that the qualities of each become amplified in an inspired union?

This promising evening of theatre is all about such relationships. Firstly, it’s about the seamless fusion of literature and music. In 2007, American composer David Lang set the tale of The Little Match Girl – Hans Christian Andersen’s tragic story about a poor girl who freezes to death as she struggles to sell matches to passers-by one New Year’s Eve – to J.S. Bach’s sacred masterpiece St Matthew Passion. The result – entitled The Little Match Girl Passion – was a dark choral work written for a vocal ensemble, and its ability to evoke the raw emotional power of both art forms contributed to Lang winning the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Secondly, the marriage of Lang’s composition – which he never planned to stage himself – and the world of drama is the very purpose of this bold and unique new production. The haunting harmonies of four barely visible vocalists lend a soundtrack to the action that builds on Lang’s original idea. A screened animation guides us through the themes of faith and humanity that are riddled in the story, from which a barefooted dancer’s graceful little match girl evokes a potent symbolism.

Next, this show is about the coming together of a theatre and an art house. It’s a pure meeting of minds between an establishment that’s acquired a solid reputation for putting on the best innovative and cutting-edge works, and a company committed to realising creative ideals through contemporary performance. The most recent collaboration between the Traverse and Cryptic was on Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, which won widespread acclaim last year.

And finally, The Little Match Girl Passion will be sharing the stage with another David Lang piece. World To Come, the first of this double bill and a Scottish premiere, sees Southbank Artist in Residence and cellist Oliver Coates provide an introspective score to Irish video artist Jack Phelan’s spooky but beautiful film about a fantasy world born from an apocalypse. Again presiding over this blend of music and visuals is director Josh Armstrong, whose work has been presented across the UK as well as in his native USA.

‘This opportunity to direct a Cryptic show and to work with performers of such a high calibre has been an incredible experience,’ he said.

So, to finish where I began, it’s great when things work together. Literature, music, dance and drama, as well as themes of faith, transformation and mortality – it’s not often you find something on stage that’s anywhere near as complete as this. This is truly what brilliant theatre is all about.