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Stage Dragon Review: Tales From Hans Christian Andersen At St Nicolas’ Church

Published on: 23 Oct, 2021
Updated on: 21 Oct, 2021

By Alice Fowler

No one does dynamic, light-touch performance better than the Guildford Shakespeare Company. At a time when sparkle, fun and magic may seem in short supply, its new production, Tales From Hans Christian Andersen, weaves an array of familiar fairy-tales into an enchanting, seamless whole.

Guildford Shakespeare Company’s Tales From Hans Christian Anderson with the fairy tale, Thumbelina. Photo by Matt Pereira.

Four actors – James Camp, Sara Hazemi, Jonathan Oldfield and Annabelle Terry – sing, dance, strut and squirm their way through director Charlotte Conquest’s dazzling production, beautifully choreographed by Indiana Lown-Collins. 

Sara Hazemi as The Little Match Girl in Tales from Hans Christian Anderson. Photo by Matt Pereira.

The show is framed by a young homeless girl – memorably played by the talented Hazemi – sleeping in a church. Her most precious possession is a book of fairy-tales, that once belonged to her mother. From its pages – and before our eyes – spill an enchanting mix of stories: The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor’s New Clothes, Thumbelina, The Princess and the Pea and many more. 

James Camp and Annabelle Terry in Tales from Hans Christian Anderson with the Princess and the Pea. Photo by Matt Pereira.

Writer and adaptor Ant Stones links Andersen’s well-known tale The Little Matchgirl to the experience of a modern-day homeless girl, seeking refuge in a church: a device that works well in the setting of St Nicolas’ Church. Matches struck on stage signal the start of each new story, with lighting designer Mark Dymock reminding us that flames – like lives and stories – flare and then die out. 

Musical director Tom Jack Merivale’s original score and lyrics bring this uplifting show alive. Wonderful moments abound, from Camp and Oldfield as fussy ducklings in yellow swimming hats and armbands, to Hazemi and Terry’s brilliant turn as grungy, rapping weavers in The Emperor’s New Clothes.  

Annabelle Terry, James Camp, Jonathan Oldfield and Sara Hazemi in the Ugly Duckling. Photo by Matt Pereira.

Designer Neil Irish draws inspiration from the natural world, with ducklings hatching magically from paper eggs, and a huge swallow puppet coming back to life, showing us that everyone deserves a second chance. 

This is a show to charm and entrance adults and children alike. At darker moments, young children may need to clasp an adult’s hand. So it has always been with the best fairy-tales, and the Guildford Shakespeare Company’s mesmerising new show is triumphantly no different. 

Tales From Hans Christian Andersen runs at St Nicholas’ Church until November 6. For details see www.guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk

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