The Little Match Girl Passion, Tron, Glasgow [4 STARS]
Published on 14 Nov 2011 // The Herald Scotland // Mary Brennan
Outside the Tron the night air bites to the bone, as do the eerie, unsettling echoes of David Lang’s Little Match Girl Passion, given its first full staging by director Josh Armstrong for Cryptic.
His quartet of fine singers – Nicola Corbishley, Clare Wilkinson, Christopher Watson and Jimmy Holliday – clearly inhabit a Victorian era of scientific curiosity and liberal thinking. The set is badged with animal skulls, glass retorts; enough to suggest Darwinian pursuits, while deliberate cuts in the women’s frocks tease at the emerging spirit of sexual equality and female suffrage.
And yet, as they solemnly recount the final sufferings of the bare-foot child – dancer Emma Snellgrove, a plaintive wraith framed on an upper level – their voices overlap in urgent counterpoints of special pleading … for themselves. They did nothing, but observe. Now their litany, even at its most chimingly harmonious is, like in the Bach Passion that Lang cites as an inspirational model, a chorus of belated conscience whose ethereal beauty pleases the listener’s ear, even as our eye is drawn to the frail creature now collapsing in the snow.
Before the interval, Lang’s World to Come seemed to suggest the final moments of his Match Girl. The sudden brief flarings of light against darkness in Jack Phelan’s film erupted and died like matches while soloist Oliver Coates created swirls of sombre sonorities, his cello sighing and questing like a voice on the edge of an unknown cosmos. Paul Sorley’s scatter of tiny floor lights (match heads, or a constellation?) added to the sense of mystery and symbolism.
Armstrong’s delicate touch throughout allowed us to be entertained, but like the night chill, this double bill resonates as a wake-up call against cosy complacencies.