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Sunday, 3 January 2016

The Little Match Girl: what Frank Moon did next

Frank Moon: now there's a name to conjure with. This alumnus of The Urban Folk Quartet has done loads of good work on the folk scene, having also been integral to The Destroyers. So it was a curious pleasure to see him on stage at the Lilian Baylis studio at Sadler's Wells last night in The Little Match Girl, having broken out, so to speak.

Looking at his CV, I realise now that this a somewhat partial, folk-orientated perspective. But still...

I wasn't quite sure how he got there. So after watching this blissfully realised - but appallingly sad - story, I asked him.

"Why, why does the little match girl have to die?" I pleaded first, my thoughts already halfway to Syria and the refugee crisis. The traces of my new year's hangover might also have had a hand in it.

"I know, it's awful, isn't it?"

However, as he'd been working on the show with its choreographer, Arthur Pita, on and off for more than three years the misery of The Little Match Girl's existence must have long been a secondary concern: you just wouldn't be able to get any work done otherwise.

So how did it happen?

"I met Arthur through The Destroyers at the Birmingham Dance Festival over five years ago. The band was asked to write some music for him and they nominated me to do the composing, which became Utopia.

"Then a little while later I had a call from him, saying that he'd found it very easy working with me and had a commission from the Royal Opera House to do Metamorphosis, based on the Kafka novel. Would I be interested?"

Nice. This what they call "the big time".

"So I said yes! And the Little Match Girl has been our third collaboration: this is the third Christmas in a row that it's been on. It's just that the first year it was on in Ipswich and didn't get reviewed until it came to London."

The show is primarily a dance piece, as you would expect given the venue. So the music is integral to the show: Moon composed and performs it, on stage, surrounded by a panoply of musical instruments, including a fiddle, oud, theramin and ocarina, making layers of sound. The theramin creates the difference between the faintly Dickensian tone of the first half of the show and the dreamlike sequence, set on the moon, that follows the little match girl's unnecessary death from cold, brought on by poverty and having no adults to take care of her. Excuse me while I struggle to compose myself again...

Moon, brilliantly, wears a motorcycle helmet with an aerial on top when he plays the theramin. Because yes.

The scraps of dialogue in the show are in Italian. "Because Arthur - who is Portuguese himself - didn't want the thing to feel exactly like Dickens. I worked on the words with a couple of the cast members, who are from Italy."

Since then Moon and Pita have done something else for the Royal Ballet called Whelan Watson: other stories and on the night I saw him, Moon was recovering from the disappointment of hearing that the show's transfer to New York had been postponed, despite tickets already having been on sale.

So he's doing OK, Frank Moon. You can catch The Little Match Girl in Manchester, at The Lowry, and in Ipswich at Dance East before the end of this run. And then he's off to Taipei with it for a while.

As I left the theatre the full extent of what this means came home when I looked at the three production posters on the wall outside the Lilian Baylis studio.

There was The Little Match Girl, with Moon's name on the poster.

 There was this one, which we all know, with music by Howard Blake.

 And then there was this one.

 You might just be able to read who did the music for that one: Tchaikovsky.  Moon's in good company.

* If you liked this post you might be moved by the final picture to read an earlier blog called A Gallery of Folk Musicians Lying in Foliage. Or this one about another of the folk scene's successful theatrical composers, John Tams, who wrote the music for War Horse.

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