REVIEW: The Match Box (Omnibus Theatre) ★★★★
November 13, 2019  //  By:   //  Plays, Reviews  //  Comments are off

Frank McGuinness’ tale of grief and revenge is revived at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham. James O’Donnell directs Angela Marray in this one-woman, two-act play, that is heavy on the emotion but funny enough to keep an audience engaged.

Marray plays Sal, a middle-aged English woman of Irish decent, who has moved to rural Ireland to escape the tragedy of the murder of her 12-year-old daughter. Sal tells us the story of her life, starting from the birth of her daughter Mary, out of wedlock and with no help from the father.

Marray was accidently caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting and killed, so Sal talks us through the stages of her grief: denial, depression, and in particular anger. As she relates the story Sal, she repeatedly takes a match from the box she carries, lights it, pauses to watch it burn before throwing it on the floor. This seems to be her coping mechanism, a way of holding the emotional overload and anxiety attacks at bay.

Originally performed at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool in 2012, this is not one of McGuiness’ more popular works but it is clear to see his skill as a writer and a poet in how beautifully he crafts many of the more emotional sections. There is a lovely rhythm to the storytelling and whilst the language can be rough, it still carries the audience along.

Angela Marray demonstrates a fantastic emotional range and makes the story feel both raw and believable. She has a tendency to slightly stumble over lines, which whilst a little distracting does not negate the pure force she shows in commanding the stage and the intensity she generates. Marray also effortless moves between voices, Sal’s Irish parents and her northern work colleague in particular.

Designer Paul Lloyd has kept things simple with a single setting on a garden decking, with a picnic table and bench, making up the only visible props. Amy Daniels’ lighting has to work a little harder, responding to the lighting of every match by bringing down the spotlights and creating a sense of a warm glow.

Overall, this clever production does justice to the poetry in McGuinness’ word and is carried by the emotional punch delivered by Marray’s performance. It will certainly make audiences react and feel the intensity of the trauma they are watching.

Reviewed by Kris Witherington

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