Everyone hates New Year’s Eve really. The pressure to have fun is just toooo much. We’d all rather give up and spend the evening with a scented candle and a collection of nineteenth-century fairytales, right guys? Guys?
Well, at least Declan Bennett agrees. That’s Declan Bennett, formerly of Point Break (Come on, Point Break! Briefly popular late ‘90s boy-band Point Break!), now a legitimately good leading man after turns in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Once’.
He takes the main role in Noughties off-Broadway hit ‘Striking 12’ at the Union Theatre, playing a depressed office drone in NYC, too miserable to do anything on NYE but laze in his laz-e-boy, sip a lonely beer, and – after a chirpy-but-somehow-sad-inside saleswoman tries to flog him some lights and chats to him about Hans Christian Andersen – get inspired by some classic Danish fairytales.
A bit cutesy, then, and a lot contrived, but it allows creators Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda and Rachel Sheinkin to sort of smash together the story of Bennett’s lonely loser with Andersen’s The Little Match Girl, in a whirlwind of folksy, bluesy tunes (think the trad vibes of Once, but a bit jauntier, a bit more syncopated).
Bennett is genuinely class. Angsty and anxious and pent-up, then exploding into angsty, anxious songs. The rest of the actor-muso cast are good, too, particularly Bronté Barbé, doubling up as saleswoman and Little Match Girl. Oliver Kaderbhai’s production is pleasingly swift, apart from some faffing around with actual matches in the middle that drags, embracing that playful, meta-theatrical whimsy that always involves a lot of coat-swapping and chair-sliding. It’s beautifully, duskily lit by Alex Lewer, and tightly choreographed by Marah Stafford.
I mean, it does basically boil down to a story about a well-off, self-absorbed white guy falling in love with a poor homeless woman he doesn’t really know, which is a bit eeeesh. But the songs are good and you have a nice time. Which is more than you can say for most New Year’s Eves.