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The Tinderbox (Bristol Old Vic)

The Tinderbox is not only great youth theatre, its great theatre full stop.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

At the outset of The Tinderbox the audience are greeted by a sparse stage in Rosie Vize's design, chairs twisted and melded together at the centre of the stage, a lone figure who could pass as a mannequin sat at a piano stage right. The house lights go down and the stage lights come up, the figure at the piano begins to tinker on the piano, actors enter the space, a wail is heard, long and low and painful; the actors gradually pull the chairs apart revealing a solider dying and his lover weeping at his side. It's an arresting image at the start of a spellbinding production that will no doubt feature on best of lists 2014.

Hans Christian Andersen's 1835 fairytale is less well known then some of his tales. It concerns a Princess, prophesised at birth to one day marry a common soldier who will overthrow her father and become King himself. To stop this from happening her despotic father and glacial mother concoct a lie, telling her that the soldier is one day destined to kill her, keep her locked up with only a lady in waiting for company, and sends out all the men to fight and die in wars in far away lands. In the way of most fairytales true love, helped by our hero's procuring of the titular tinderbox, will find a way. And like all the best fairytales, there is some quite brutal retribution to be dished out along the way.

Its great source material for adaptation, a piece that most of the audience won't know, and the young cast throw themselves at it with verve and a great dose of imagination. They devised the piece with guidance from director Lisa Gregan (a name to watch if this is any indication) and writer/adapter Silva Semerciyan and show complete ownership of the material, they clearly care deeply about it. There is a thrilling alchemy between this passion and the artistry of the work. Time and time again images are created and ideas given life that rival that work seen on any stage. They have inevitably been influenced by the work recently seen on the Old Vic stage, an adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen tale after The Little Mermaid, the foot stamping that becomes a recurring motif, directly out of Sally Cookson's Jane Eyre.

The standard of playing is impressively high but stand outs would include Krista Matthews who gives the Princess a heavily feminist slant, no sitting back and being a fairytale version that her soldier lover expects thank you very much, an icy Queen from Beth Collins and Dale Thrupp as the lady in waiting, who escapes the questionable dragging up to find an honest and truthful representation of the princess' confidante.

Perhaps occasionally the lack of technique from the actors shows, a few lines were lost through diction and a lack of volume over the incidental music but this is a moot point in a production that not only highlights how good youth theatre but stands just comparison with the very best of them.

- Kris Hallett

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