The Little Match Girl is a touching adaptation of the classic Hans Christian Anderson story. Afraid to go home before she sells all her matches, a young girl huddles on a street corner. In an attempt to stay warm she lights a match, which sparks a vision for a better life. Match after match she hopes to keep the comforting images coming. Pantomime and music set the tone for this sad but meaningful tale. While the original story was written in 1845, this play can easily be set long ago or in our world today.
About the Playwright:
Jennifer Reif has been teaching, directing, and performing around the Pacific Northwest for decades. Her shelves are lined with children’s books and her happy place is in the woods. She loves devising theatre projects with kids and sharing creative ideas with teachers. Jennifer holds her BA in Theatre from Morningside College and also studied at Oxford University in England.
Excerpt from the play:
POLLY (The Little Matchgirl) – a young girl who needs to sell matches to help make money for her family.
SHOPKEEPER – the owner of a shop whose actions speak louder than their words.
MRS. ANDERSON – a happy woman who is enjoying the holidays with her family. Doesn’t take notice of Polly.
LOUIE – a young boy who is not very kind to Polly.
LUCY – a young girl who is not very kind to Polly.
GRANDMOTHER -Polly’s grandmother who died years ago, and has appeared to guide Polly to Heaven.
*Any of the character’s genders can be changed.
ENSEMBLE – These performers cross the stage at the opening and closing to establish the scene. They should make specific choices about who they are and where they are going. They should be enjoying the holiday season. They also create the pantomimed scenes that are Polly’s visions. Mrs. Anderson, Louie and Lucy can also join in the pantomimes.
NOTES ON PANTOMIME: The vision scenes are an opportunity to tell a story through movement. Instrumental music can help set the tone and provide structure for each vision. Just as if you were creating a tableau, encourage actors to use different levels and expression. They should also know where the focus is: on the warm fire, the table set with delicious food, or on the Christmas tree. Each ensemble member should have a specific character and show that through movement. Each vision should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. You can choose to use simple props if you like, or it can all be in pantomime. You do not need a real fire, table, or tree, but perhaps symbolic things like blankets, a serving tray, or garland for a tree if you choose. Actors should enter and exit the visions in character.
(A busy street corner on New Years Eve. People are bustling by. It is growing dark, but the glow of streetlights and shop windows light the area. It is snowing. Instrumental music sets the scene. Take your time with this opening scene, allowing ensemble characters to emerge and to feel the joy of New Years. This will help juxtapose Polly. No set is necessary, but you could add elements to suggest storefronts or a streetlight. The pantomimed visions are created around Polly as if her imagination is coming to life. This play can easily be set long ago, or in current times.)
(Mrs. Anderson and children exit a shop. She carries a bag of food. The Shopkeeper stands at door sending them off with season’s greetings. It’s almost time to close the store.)
Thank you for stopping in. I hope you enjoy your New Year’s Meal.
Meal? This is going to be a feast. Once again your shop has everything we need.
My pleasure. Look at this snow! Such a beautiful time of year isn’t it?
It is indeed. This snow makes me so grateful for our warm home. Thank you again for all the trimmings.
And for the candy!
And for the cookies!
…And for your friendship. (Correcting and coaching children to say the same.)
LUCY and LOUIE
…And for your friendship.
Why don’t you two run along?
Thank you mother. We are going to listen to the carolers over by the church.
And have a snowball fight in the schoolyard.
All right. Just be home before dinner. (Children run off laughing and adlibs.) Thank you again, and Happy New Year!
(As they exit, Polly enters and sets up at the corner. Depending on whether you set your production in current times, or long ago, you might consider giving her a handwritten sign that says ‘matches for sale’. She is wearing shoes that are much too large for her and clothes not suitable for snowy weather. She needs a large coat, blanket, or shawl she can leave behind.)
(To Mrs. Anderson.) Happy New Year to you! (Noticing Polly and quickly changing tone.) What are you doing there child? You can’t just sit on this street corner?
I won’t be long. I promise.
Well I hope not. I don’t need someone begging outside of my shop.
And it’s cold outside. You should be going home.
Yes Ma’am. I’ll head home soon. Happy New Year!
Hmph. Happy New Year. (Not happy about this, but heads back inside shop.)
(Polly settles in. People continue passing by not taking notice of Polly, or perhaps saying things under their breath. These are the same people we saw at the top of the scene, but now they are heading a new direction. Perhaps heading home. Soon Lucy and Louie enter again playfully, and then begin antagonizing Polly.)