The Match Box

Frank McGuinness
Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse
Tricycle Theatre, London

Leanne Best Credit: Christian Smith
Leanne Best Credit: Christian Smith
Leanne Best Credit: Christian Smith

The Match Box, which saw its world première at the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse last year, could best be described as a Graeco-Hibernian variation on a tragic theme.

It also becomes a wonderful showcase for the expressive talents of Leanne Best, who shows remarkable feeling as she delivers the lonely monologue describing the trials and tribulations of Sal, a Liverpudlian mother from good Irish Catholic stock.

Despite her wilful, underlying cheerfulness, it is clear from the start that not too far beneath the surface lies deep trouble. If nothing else, it seems odd that this busy city girl should have moved to a deserted island off the coast of Kerry.

It doesn't take too long to discover that Sal has lost a child and soon enough, we begin to hear about illegitimate Mary and the problems and pleasures that she engendered, merely by existing.

Even though she is hard as nails, Sal's mother, wittily sketched by Miss Best, is remarkably supportive on learning of her daughter's unexpected pregnancy, though like her future granddaughter, she never learns the identity of the father.

Mary is as strong as all of the women in this family but manages to offer much-needed love to her single mother, who makes ends meet in a dead-end job.

Since it happens so early in the 100 minute running time, it does not seem unreasonable to reveal that the main issues addressed by this play result from the random murder of the young girl when she was only 12.

Getting caught in gangland crossfire could happen to anyone but the death of a sweet rabbit lover seems even more deeply shocking than an adult.

Up to this point, the storytelling is relatively run-of-the-mill. However, once Sal moves into determined denial it steps up a gear or two, greatly helped by a passionate performance.

The remainder of the evening sees Sal's gradual acceptance of the kind of fate that no mother can ever imagine.

Once the bad news has finally sunk in, she delivers a moving speech to the press and, by extension the Tricycle audience, which is filled with generous forgiveness.

However, that is not the purpose of the matches that she continues to light as the story is related.

At some point before the climax, quite possibly half an hour or so, it should gradually dawn on viewers that the various different elements which they have been observing can only fit together with a single outcome.

This cathartic negation of incomparable grief becomes the dramatic highlight of a real tour de force from Leanne Best, who receives sympathetic direction from Lia Williams, who as an actress, has only recently ended her highly successful run in Old Times but seems well suited to this new career move.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher