The Match Box

Feb 15 2018 | By More

★★★☆☆    Slow burn

Traverse Theatre: Tue 13 – Sat 17 Feb 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

Matches are resolutely old-school and capable of being taken for granted, but are just as capable of flaring into life as they always were. Which is pretty much the case with Firebrand’s The Match Box, at the Traverse until Saturday.

This current tour (a co-production with The Byre, St Andrews and Heart of Hawick) is the first time Frank McGuinness’s one-hander from 2012 has been seen in Scotland.

Janet Coulson. Pic Alistair Kerr

It is a deftly constructed piece, detailing the dislocation of loss – the story of Sal, a woman from the North of England who has lost her twelve-year-old daughter Mary to the crossfire of a random, apparently gang-related shooting.

This domestic tragedy becomes something more approaching a Greek one in its depiction of the psychologically paralysing effects of grief and revenge.

There is even something Beckettian in Janet Coulson’s extremely fine performance as she starts by grabbing a microphone and talking nineteen to the dozen like a stand-up on the edge of a precipice, trying to use language both as a means of rationalising the irrational and as a desperate attempt at staving off the darkness.

versatility and stagecraft

The script elegantly combines mundanity, the banality of how the media deal with personal tragedy, and the rawness and absurdity of emotions that are almost literally unspeakable.

Coulson is very good at all of this, demonstrating commendable versatility and stagecraft, as well as bringing life to the other characters in Sal’s story.

Janet Coulson as Sal. Pic Alistair Kerr Photography

Director Richard Baron equals this with inventive use of the acting space and props, providing a much needed variety and an impetus that rarely seems forced. Wayne Dowdeswell’s lighting can be softly supportive or gloriously intrusive as occasion demands.

The sound design (courtesy of Jon Beales) is also impressive, particularly in the way that everyday sounds such as cameras or the matches of the title take on a more threatening aspect.

Yet the very cleverness of the sound design brings the slight artificiality of it all into focus, making it more like a radio play on stage – not least in the odd glitch in synchronisation.

The story also exhibits the odd creak over its expansive running time. There is no reason that this story cries out to be told over ninety minutes rather than eighty (or sixty, or fifty). The whole framing device of its being told from the island off County Kerry, home of Sal’s family, seems a touch convenient, and there is definite repetition which – while undoubtedly deliberate – is overdone.

The quality of Coulson’s performance and the rhythms of the staging are sufficient to push such concerns to the back of the mind, however, even if they never disappear entirely.

Like those matches, this gets the job done and should not be underestimated, even if we might wish for something a bit more user-friendly.

Running time 1 hour 30 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 14 – Saturday 18 February 2018
Daily at 8.00 pm
Information and tickets:

Also touring to Glasgow:

Citizens Theatre, 119 Gorbals Street, Glasgow G5 9DS (Box Office: 0141 429 0022)
Tuesday 20 – Friday 24 February
Daily at 7.30pm
Tickets and further details:

Firebrand Theatre on facebook: @firebrandtheatre.
Twitter: @FirebrandTheatr.

The script is published by Faber & Faber.
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