The Theatreguide.London Review
Tricycle Theatre Spring 2013
A study in the unfathomable depths of grief as they approach madness, Frank McGuinness's monologue play is at its best moments powerfully absorbing, insightful and emotionally gripping.
But at an uninterrupted one and three-quarter hours it is almost twice its ideal length, and even an emotionally naked performance by Leanne Best can't sustain its intensity or save it from spell-breaking dips in energy.
Best plays an Irish single mother living in England who experiences the worst thing in the world, the death of her schoolgirl daughter, a horror compounded by its obscene triviality as the girl was caught in the crossfire of some youths just playing with their guns.
Speaking from what appears at first to be a later position of acceptance and peace, the mother relives her story as she narrates it, travelling once again from innocent happiness through shock, denial, and the numb reliance on a Nemesis that she then begins to find herself prepared to expedite, so that her final condition is closer to damnation than peace.
Aside from being overlong, the veteran playwright's dramaturgy is uneven as, for example, he never solves the basic problem of any monologue – why is this woman talking to us?
The central symbol of the title is forced to carry too much weight, as the woman punctuates her memories by repeatedly striking matches, fascinated and oddly calmed by both the flames (which will have plot resonances) and the smell of sulphur (too overtly standing for her sense of damnation). And a clear difficulty finding an ending forces him to change dramatic vocabulary and performance style abruptly, in search of a climax.
As directed by Lia Williams, herself an actress adept at combining subtlety with intensity, Leanne Best grabs us from the start by masking the woman's apparent happiness in a tight, determined smile that betrays the tension beneath, and then slowly doling out hints of the depth and darkness of the hidden passions.
She is at her most touching when reliving the several types of denial a mother grasps at when faced with the unthinkable, at her most chilling when unconvincingly denying a role in a rough justice meted on the killers, and at her most helpless when you can see the actress struggling to carry the text over its several dead patches.
Ultimately, what could have been a taut, unrelenting and overpowering psychological horror story if an hour long dissipates too much of its energy, leaving the memory of brief flashes of emotional power amidst too much that is less effective.
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Review - The Match Box - Tricycle Theatre 2013