Oliver Kaderbhai directs the acclaimed off-Broadway musical as it opens for a limited run at the charming Union Theatre.

Striking 12 is essentially a 21st-century retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Match Girl, albeit with a substantially less morbid conclusion. Set in New York on new year’s eve it focuses on the story of Brendan (Declan Bennett), who is absolutely not winning at life; his fiance has left him, he’s at risk of losing his job and his boss has made him work late. The last thing he wants is to go out and celebrate, pretending to have fun. A chance encounter with a lightbulb seller (Bronté Barbé) radically changes his evening.

There’s not a lot of plot to the play – it’s a very slight performance, weighing in at just 70 minutes straight through. Quite a substantial amount of that time is dedicated to a re-reading of The Little Match Girl found in a conveniently-placed compendium of Hans Christian Anderson short stories.

It doesn’t matter, however, as it’s enough to act as a vehicle the songs, which are generally superb. It’s a punchy, contemporary score combining pop, rock and jazz, and the performance has a wonderfully quirky, low-fi feel to proceedings. The band consists of a drummer, pianist and violinist, with Declan adding acoustic guitar to some songs.

We weren’t completely sold on the first couple of numbers, but they rapidly improved and we were thoroughly enjoying the music by the end. Each performer also enjoys his or her moment to shine vocally, while their voices blend well together, too. Matches For Sale is a beautiful little number while Fine, Fine, Fine tells a story that is completely relatable.

Striking 12 is a cute, charming little play indeed. It’s not the most ambitious or original of pieces, but to judge it on these criteria would be to entirely miss the point; it’s an entertaining, feel-good slice of festive fun with some excellent music. Well worth a visit.

Gay Times gives Striking 12 – ★★★

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