REVIEW: Risscht! | Open Lid Ensemble

Risscht! The Little Match Girl

Review by Susie Conte


Perth is rapidly becoming THE town of small pop-up charming venues for theatre and music. A new discovery was the Red Room at Little Creatures NextDoor. Decked out in a big circus top and twinkling fairy lights, it was a great space to see a theatre show. As part of the Fremantle Festival, The Open Lid Ensemble have re-imagined Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale of a little dying girl’s hopes and dreams into a modern day movement parable, employing physical theatre techniques to create a world of meaning. As she strikes a match to keep herself warm, the little girl sees visions which take her out of her world and make her feel warm and happy, before finally succumbing.  The sound the match makes is RISSCHT…

Seated in a semi-circle and facing a small stage of paper skyscrapers and crumpled newspapers, the audience could see each other’s reactions as well as the action. The actors moved through and behind and near the audience. It felt like we were a part of the action and kept us on our toes. To the side of the stage were two musicians (Michael Biagioni and Isaura Campbell), moaning mournfully on the microphone, teasing out a tune on a muted saxophone, playing an electric violin and banging on electric drums. It was the highlight of the evening to see and hear the live music soundtrack to the show.

The show opened with four black-hooded women lighting lanterns with real matches. On blowing them out, the smell of the matches suffused the air and became a great addition to the atmosphere. We meet the little girl (Courtney Turner) who is trying to sell matches in an indifferent and cold world, trying to stop stony faced and grotesque characters who are ignoring her. A significant moment was when they froze in their monotonous marching and the little girl was able to try and make a human connection through touch. Turner plays the titular character with warmth and heartbreak. When she finally strikes a match, her first vision takes her into a warm embrace of bodies crackling like fire. Her second vision, into a fairy pyjama party, and the third vision back into the bosom of her family. This third vision is where the heart of the play sits. It is home. Family. Love. This is where I felt a connection. When she is jolted back into reality she sees a hooded figure blowing out the candles of her life one by one.

The other performers, Kat Shaw, Amanda Watson, Hannah Evelyn and Sinead O’Hara are all physical theatre practitioners.  Their press release says, “Their performance style features the physical and draws upon a plethora of influences and inspirations from Lecoq, Ann Bogarte and Frantic Assembly, to Butoh dance theatre and Pina Bausch.” These are all big names and concepts, and some of the movement on the night was a little hard to engage in.  As part of the storytelling it sometimes felt drawn out and repetitive. I would have liked to see more variety and storytelling through movement. Having said that, I loved the energy of the piece and the tightness of the ensemble work. You can tell they work well together and they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Kat Shaw has a face that you are drawn to watching. Her grotesque faces are comical and in repose, she is compelling. She is a high spirited and strong performer who is totally engaged. The other ladies are a great foil to her energy. Amanda Watson, tall and imposing, has the best moments of physical characterization – two particular standouts are when she is on the phone as a faceless grey worker, and playing the little girl’s younger brother in the final vision. Hannah Evelyn looks like a 1920s movie star with expressive eyes and moved gracefully across the stage. Sinead O’Hara felt like the quiet backbone of the piece.

The lighting and sound design was impeccable and really added to an atmospheric piece of theatre. I love watching strong female performers adding to the theatrical landscape of independent theatre in Perth. This is a good introduction to physical theatre for anyone who has never ventured into that territory.

Risscht! The Little Match Girl plays until the 4th of November at the Red Room at Little Creatures Next Door in Fremantle. For tickets and more information visit here.