BWW Review: STRIKING 12, Union Theatre
The festive season isn't everyone's favourite annual event, and this year in particular is not working out for Brendan: his fiancée has left him, he's failing at work, and his friends can't take the hint that he's not a New Year's Eve kind of person. All he wants to do is sit in his flat with a beer and be in bed by 11pm.
But will an encounter with a slightly odd girl selling lightbulbs, and finally finding out how The Little Match Girl ends, end his year on a more positive note? This is the basis for Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda and Rachel Sheinkin's musical Striking 12, which makes its UK debut at the Union Theatre this Christmas.
It is inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen story, as well as including segments from it, and is largely sung-through - Milburn and Vigoda provide a jazzy, poppy score that is sung and performed by the cast (supported by Andrew Linnie on piano), building up a delightful 70-minute show.
There are some very relatable themes running throughout the show; it's pretty well balanced between celebrating the joy and spirit of the season, as well as recognising that, for various reasons, some people do find it difficult. The blend of musical styles in the score allows the mood to alternate between melancholic and uplifting, tugging at the heartstrings before bringing you in for a warm hug.
The intimate surroundings of the Union Theatre are ideal for this show, the interior already feeling like the inside of a flat, before designer Natalie Johnson could make some homely enhancements. Some of the choreography (Oliver Kaderbhai and Marah Stafford) is a bit 'busy', and would perhaps be better suited to a slightly larger performance space - though the attempt at presenting it in a contemporary and interesting way is definitely a positive point.
Despite the small space and the power of the cast's vocals, a bit of amplification is definitely needed. All the cast have radio mics, but they didn't seem to be in use - presumably this was just an unfortunate technical glitch, which is a bit of a shame as some of the wordier sets of lyrics are quite incomprehensible over the piano, drums and violin.
The whole company works well as a unit, some acting partly as narrators as well as some other parts (Kate Robson-Stuart is a real hoot as an overenthusiastic party guest), with Declan Bennett starring as Brendan and Bronté Barbé as S.A.D. lightbulb seller (doubling as the Little Match Girl). The pair create some stunning harmonies in their duets, and Barbé fills the room with her poignant rendition of "Wonderful".
Bennett is entertaining as the grouchy office worker and does a good job of developing his character through his performance, his heart slowly melting as the Little Match Girl's freezes - as the book is slightly lacking in that area.
If you want to see something a little different this holiday season, then look no further than Striking 12. Its beautiful score and winning performances will warm you up faster than a glass of mulled wine by the fireside.
Picture credit: Tom Grace