Union Theatre – until 23rd December
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Striking 12 is a fantastic bittersweet show that is perfect for those not wanting obvious saccharine festive offerings. It’s like a less anarchic millennial Scrooged, but ditching Dickens for Hans Christian Anderson. (Which would provoke some juicy language from the versions of the two authors playing down the road at the Bridge.)
Office worker Declan is just going through the motions at work, and just wants to be left alone on New Year’s Eve. When a stranger knocks on his door trying to sell lightbulbs that she claims combat SAD, he listens to her sales pitch but sends her away, joking that she’s like the little matchgirl. Her reaction makes him seek out Anderson’s story and instead of going to his friends’ parties, he sits and reads the sad, sad story.
That’s about it, really. This short but sweet production of Milburn, Vigoda and Sheinkin’s musical isn’t earth-shattering, but director Oliver Kaderbhai and the accomplished cast create a show that burns as bright as the matches in the little girl’s hands. With a cast of only 6, the hustle and bustle and claustrophobia of city life is depicted beautifully through Marah Stafford’s choreography. Leon Scott and Kate Robson-Stuart excel on the drums and violin as they play Declan’s colleagues and friends badgering him to celebrate. Danielle Kassaraté is full of energy as the narrator, cajoling Declan into taking part in the story and there is lots of humour from the three’s mock frustration as they have to shift roles or misunderstand instructions. Declan Bennett as Brendan keeps a fine balance between self-indulgence and true despair and provides fantastic vocals as he works through his bah humbug feelings. Bronte Barbé is sweet and kooky as the lightbulb seller and will break your heart as the little match girl. The songs jump genres but all feel perfect for the show and are all played with style by the cast and Andrew Linnie on the piano.
Striking 12 highlights the hypocrisy that surrounds the festive season, with those in need or alone only able to sit watching at the fringes, without becoming too worthy and never losing its sense of fun. You can’t help but be uplifted by the joyful, hopeful ending, and will walk out humming the songs, looking skyward and hoping for snow.