The Match Box has received extremely positive reviews across the board, and that is with good reason – if you like theatre, and you like storytelling, its power is exemplary.
A new work by Irish playwright Frank McGuinness, it is currently premiering at the Playhouse studio and has already had its run extended twice. An intense one-hander telling the tale of Sal, an exiled mother shunned from her community in the aftermath of the murder of her daughter, it proves an extraordinary vehicle for the talents of Liverpool actress and LIPA graduate Leanne Best.
Best has had a steady ascent in recent years, being seen on city stages including the Everyman (Unprotected), the Empire (Corrie!), and the Playhouse proper (The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui). But The Match Box is a challenge unlike any previous work, and as such she is currently the name on everybody’s lips.
It’s probably a controversial opinion for what it’s worth, but I’d say McGuiness’s text is the least interesting thing about this play. While it weaves a rich story indeed, it is prone to certain theatrical tropes. What keeps The Match Box totally enthralling is the interpretation of it by Best and director Lia Williams. Colin Richmond’s design of Sal’s shabby front room, wallpaper peeling and faded, adds to the sense of desolation and isolation.
It’s easy to see how, with another actress and another director you could end up with almost a completely different play, and therein lies the real intrigue of this piece. It a real masterclass into the craft of acting and of theatre itself. Personally, I came out of The Match Box feeling I’d had a true education. It’s not the sort of experience that comes along every day.
Sal tells her story for one hour and 45 minutes without stopping; yet it never feels too long. She speaks to the audience as a collective house guest, often delivering lines while looking straight at individuals sat in the front row. Best gives of an air of unhinged desperation as she tells her tale, drawing out words and giving the impression she could snap at any time, which, eventually, she does.
It’s that strange kind of discomfort as you watch; if Sal was real, you’d be as keen to offer sympathy for her dire situation as you would be to cross the road without eye contact. It’s a terrible irony McGuinness explores fully. In the end, I’m not sure Sal’s story even adds up in places — and if that’s deliberate, it’s an interesting twist on all that comes before.
Anyone with an interest in theatre should see this production, which runs at the Playhouse Studio until July 21.
Picture by Christian Smith