The Matchgirls at Wilton’s Music Hall
Performing at Wilton’s, the oldest and last surviving Grand Music Hall in the world, is an honour for the cast of The Matchgirls. Staged by the DumbWise company, the musical is based on the London matchgirls’ strike of 1888. The women employed in the Bryant and May factory were exposed to severe, illegal working conditions and their situation caught the attention of a journalist and activist, Annie Besant. The writer helped ignite the fight for better prospects by publishing an article that uncovered the dirt, subsequently leading to the famous strike and inspired the trade union movement that from then on backed the many workers dissatisfied with their state (low pay rates, unjust fines etc.).
The Matchgirls retraces the steps of that historical event through its protagonist Kate, who acts as the rebel leader standing up for her rights and rousing her colleagues to do the same, holding firm in the battle for equality. Played by Laura Kirman, the character is a raging bull struggling to accomplish her goals of self-affirmation and freedom. She is nonetheless challenged in doing so by the love she feels for Joe – a simple but passionate docker.
Kirman and a couple of other actors can be individually praised, but it’s the choral performance that makes the difference. Whether it’s by building tension with overlapping dramatic whispers and echoes or by bursting with clapping and loud joyful chants, it’s when they all sing and play together that we see the sparks. Leah Elsey as Annie Besant and the 15-year-old Niamh Canning in the role of Louie (as her stage debut) cast a shadow on what is otherwise a nice musical dealing with an interesting and fashionable subject. Both actors lack stage presence but while this is understandable for Canning, Elsey’s faltering portrayal of the journalist is less condonable.
There are some witty moments, some sad ones and a double happy ending: overall The Matchgirls is enjoyable and well orchestrated, but it’s a match whose flame burns too soon. This musical lacks fireworks.
The Matchgirls is at Wilton’s Music Hall until 5th July 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.