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Teddington Theatre Club

Hampton Hill Theatre - 08 July 2018


Cor, Strike A Light!

The Matchgirls

by Bill Owen, music by Tony Russell

Teddington Theatre Club, Hampton Hill Theatre until 13th July

Review by Andrew Lawston

A Made in Dagenham for the 19th Century, Bill Owen's musical The Matchgirls dramatises the 1888 strike at London's Bryant & May match factory.  Throughout the show, TTC juggles upbeat musical numbers with grim working conditions, grinding poverty, and committee meetings.  A largely female cast of “cockney sparrows” give a confident and powerful performance that rattles along at a furious pace.

Following an overture illustrated by an impressive filmed insert, the curtain rises to reveal Fiona Auty's set consisting mostly of stark scaffolding against an ominous misty backdrop.  This evocative design keeps the action moving smoothly, with minimal props brought on to denote scenes set away from the factory and “Hope Court”.  The vivid costumes provide welcome splashes of colour against their grim backdrop.

The opening song sums up the show's tone.  “Phosphorous” is a jaunty chorus number about Phossy Jaw, a disfiguring occupational hazard in the matchstick industry in the 19th Century.  There's a certain black comedy implicit in the material, which thankfully the cast do not play for laughs.

From initial confrontations with Dave Dadswell's odious Foreman Mynel, Kate quickly emerges as the de facto leader of the Matchgirls, and Emma Hosier gives a spirited performance throughout a show that requires a huge musical and emotional range from her.

Grumbling over working conditions, fines, and stoppages in the match factory are brought to a head by news that a statue of Gladstone is to be unveiled – and paid for by further deductions from the girls' meagre wages – Kate undergoes a bewilderingly rapid political education under the tutelage of Annie Besant, in an impassioned performance from Sue Reoch.   The ambivalent tone with which Besant is addressed as “Dear Lady” by all the girls, suspicious of a “do-gooder”, foreshadows consequences for the girls' livelihoods.  They go without food for the first week of their strike, only to be told blithely by Besant that a strike fund is “coming soon”.  It is a shame that the script does not really develop this conflict, which instead focuses on the strike breakers and an emerging love triangle … …

Read Andrew Lawston’s full review at www.markaspen.wordpress.com/2018/07/08/match-ttc

Photography by JoJo Leppink (Handwritten Photography)

The Matchgirls by Andrew Lawston

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