The story behind a local production of Little Matchstick Girl at Farnham Maltings has an equally moving significance & legacy
The Little Matchstick Girl is one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most evocative and best-loved fairytales. And this month the tale is brought to life on the Farnham Maltings stage thanks to an equally heartfelt journey.
The show’s producer is Sophie Key whose father, Jeremy Paul, was a well-known television writer, starring in Upstairs Downstairs, Secret of Sherlock Holmes, Lovejoy, Midsomer Murders and Hetty Wainthrope. He originally adapted The Little Match Girl for television in the early 1970s and was then approached by composer Keith Strachan to turn it into a musical, which they did in 1977 at The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. ‘’I was six at the time,’’ recalls Sophie, ‘’and I remember the production vividly, which my father also directed. In the 1980s it was adapted again for television starring Twiggy and Roger Daltrey. My sister and mum [well-known actress Patricia Garwood who played Beryl in No Place Like Home in the 1980s] put on a version of it about 10 years ago at The Lighthouse Theatre in Poole, and another sister was in that production.
‘’I took my daughter, Abbie, who was six at the time to see this production, and she absolutely loved it, and has been asking me ever since to put on a production.’’
A decade later, and in a lovely turn of events, this show comes to the Farnham stage and Abbie will star in this production, playing Liza, one of the rich girls the Match Girl meets. ‘’So, this is also an opportunity to pass the magic of the show down to the next generation,’’ adds Sophie. ‘’I have a close personal connection to the show, and it is a fulfilment of a lifetime ambition to put on my own production of it. The reason I am doing it this year is that I sadly lost my mum to cancer in February, and I wanted to put my energies into something creative and positive and something she would have been really proud of me for doing. My dad died eight years ago, so I’m dedicating the production to both their memories.’’
The musical includes the song’Mistletoe & Wine which was the Christmas Number 1 of 1988, recorded by Cliff Richard, and went on to win an Ivor Novello award. Composer Keith Strachan explains how this came about: ‘’Mistletoe & Wine, was a Christmas song to be sung by the cast in the style of a Christmas Carol. We discussed using a traditional carol but decided to write our own. And I kept saying to the others ‘this is a hit’ and I sent it to recording artists but no one was interested in recording it… Well at least not until 1988 when Cliff Richard heard it and made it his own.’’
Sophie lives in Farnham and runs a corporate video production company with her husband. This is the first theatre production she has done for a number of years although she trained originally as a theatre director at The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond.
‘’I have cast the production using local talent, including actors from FAOS, Haslemere Players, The Grayshott Stagers, Farnham Dance, Showshack Elite Theatre Group, and pupils from Weydon, All Hallows and Frensham Heights. So it’s a real community project. All profits from the production are going to Phyllis Tuckwell.’’