The Little Match Girl Passion @ Tron [4 STARS]
Published on 11 November 2011 // The Skinny // Margaret Kirk
There has always been an uncompromising seriousness within Cryptic’s art. While they are now on the cusp of redefining their mission – having been the vehicle for Cathie Boyd’s direction, they are promising to become a producing house for young talent, this commitment has not changed. Josh Armstrong’s direction of The Little Match Girl Passion – and its support act, World to Come – continues Boyd’s interests in making music that can be seen, top-notch technology, bashing presumptions about genre and a high quality production polish.
David Lang’s scores, which are the foundation for Armstrong’s adventures into illustrating and interpreting music, are blessed by both a minimalism aesthetic and a rich knowledge of the complete classical tradition. The Passion – recalling in title and intent the great oratorios based on the Gospel – transforms the Hans Christian Andersen’s fable into a Victorian meditation on poverty and spiritual triumph. World to Come – a more abstract work for cello and prerecorded voice and cellos, recalling Reich’s New York Counterpoint, where the instrumentalist plays against an orchestrate made from their own recordings – is delicate and emotive.
Armstrong consciously billed World to Come first, to greater emphasise the moral intent of The Passion: World’s rendition by Oliver Coates is a breathy whisper, while Jack Phelan’s film sustains the gentle, contemplative mood. For The Passion, however, Armstrong brings in the Total Theatre dynamic: Victorian costumes, four singers who dabble in percussion, a dancer and a gorgeous lighting design from Paul Sorley, work with the score to illuminate the themes of compassion, sanctity and poverty that are hidden in the text.
The decision not to update the story – tragedy bourn from poverty, and the hope of redemption are hardly consigned to the dustbin of history – plays counter to Lang’s score, yet embraces the original story elegantly. Where Lang calls up memories of motets and hymns of praise, the voices rising to heaven in appeal or despair, the set design recalls a homestead: a brutal contrast to the exposed match-girl, represented by solo dancer Emma Snellgrove, high above the main stage. The choreography is suggestive of the unfolding tragedy, leaving the singers to drive the plot and steering clear of melodrama.
Armstrong emphasises the spiritual hope of the score without losing the serious social comment: beautiful and moving, The Little Match Girl Passion nevertheless provokes compassion and lives up to Cryptic’s boast that they ravish the senses.