The Little Match Girl Passion, Traverse, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
David Lang (Composer), Josh Armstrong (Director and Designer), Paul Sorley (Lighting Designer).
World To Come; Oliver Coates (Cellist), Jack Phelan (Film Artist).
The Little Match Girl Passion: Singers - Nicola Corbishley (Soprano), Clare Wilkinson (Mezzo), Christopher Watson (Tenor), Jimmy Holliday (Bass); Emma Snellgrove (Dancer).
Running time

Cryptic, an internationally-renowned producing art house based in Glasgow, has brought together some sensational talent to deliver an evening’s entertainment to savour. The performance consisted of two pieces both composed by David Lang and directed by Josh Armstrong, which were similar in essence yet rather different in style.

The first, World To Come, was an unusual and challenging piece that contemplated the fragility of life. Solo cellist Oliver Coates sat alone in a spotlight, with a large screen dominating the space above him, onto which black and white images were projected that echoed and ‘danced’ with the sounds that he made.

The cello picked out rhythmic staccato beats that built to meld gently, yet painfully, into an uncertain tune. On the screen fragile membranes pulsated dimly. Diffused light sparked brightly, briefly illuminating shapes that the brain unwittingly struggled - and failed - to identify, before they were lost in the darkness again.

This piece served as a contemplation of existence and a metaphor for a million human meditations concerning life, the universe and everything. It was therefore deeply personal and will continue to stir up ontological questions as long as the sounds and images linger.

In 2008, David Lang was awarded the Pullitzer Prize in music for The Little Match Girl Passion, but even armed with such high expectations, the musical composition was stunning. It places the well-known sorry tale by Hans Christian Andersen into the format of Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion and Lang informs us meaningfully in the programme that ‘passion’ comes from the Latin word for ‘suffering’.

Four singers narrated the story while Emma Snellgrove enacted the role of the Little Match Girl through movement. The staging was exquisite with the four superb singers creating a series of tableaus at ground level and the ethereal dancer appearing to float above them, viewed through the afore-mentioned screen. This was hauntingly beautiful, atmospheric and moving.

While undoubtedly each individual element made a brilliant contribution to the whole, the lighting, designed by Paul Sorley, was arguably what lifted the piece from magnificent to magical. Continuing with the black and white motif on the screen that we saw in the first piece, the Little Match Girl was starkly white in the blackness. The screen was mounted on what looked like torn corrugated cardboard, as if the screen represented snapshots or drawings torn from a book. This was made full use of in this piece, with intermittent rather than continual images being created that more than enhanced the overall story telling.

This was a collaboration of film, music, singing and movement that were expertly combined to produce a breathtaking and timeless piece of theatre.

Performed at the Traverse, 22 & 23 November, 2011