Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 12 May 2013

The Match Box

Tricycle Theatre ⋄ 2nd May - 1st June 2013

Faith, grief and forgiveness.

Ben Monks

“Good news and good neighbours, that’s what we need to survive,” says Sal, protagonist of Frank McGuinness’ one-woman drama The Match Box. She’s not had much luck with either – shocked into a state of psychosis by the death of her only child in gangland crossfire, shunned by her family for an overly-forgiving attitude to the murder, and suspected of complicity in a fatal arson attack on the suspected perpetrators, Sal leaves Liverpool for Valentia Island, a part of Western Ireland “so quiet you can hear yourself breathe.”

McGuinness’ monologue is a neat narrative of heartbreak and homeland, sharply realized by Lia Williams’ unfussy production. A beautifully crafted piece of storytelling, McGuinness gently drip-feeds the milestones in Sal’s transition from family life to Irish outcast, and Leanne Best’s mesmerizing performance never fails to captivate for any of its 100 minutes, fleeting from casual Liverpudlian chatting with the front row to troubled psychotic spellbound by the flame of a match via fits of grief, nerves and hysteria.

But simmering beneath Sal’s story is a rich thesis on faith, grief and forgiveness that echoes both similar incidents in Liverpool (the murder of Rhys Jones has several parallels with that of Sal’s daughter, Mary) and wider attitudes to belief and belonging that run through much of McGuinness’ work.

His recent adaptation of Damned by Despair was a study of two men caught up in the consequences of unerring faith to father-like figures and acting on custom and tradition over reason. In The Match Box McGuinness once again pushes the images and ideologies of Catholic heritage to their limits: religious imagery haunts Sal’s story but its components are either hollow or in some way inverted – Sal’s main source of purification and cleansing is fire which smells of sulphur, the smell of Lucifer; the death of the sacrificial lamb, her daughter, is never redeemed; the very act of forgiveness in Sal’s pardoning of her daughter’s killers triggers rejection by her community. The acts we’re led to believe will provide solace do not: “I don’t mind their [the congregation’s] sympathy,” Sal says, “but I won’t take that nonsense about comfort”¦ I said what I had to say about forgiveness, and much good it did me.” Instead Sal is haunted by Mary, the ghost of her inescapable history; she sees “every life before me, every death behind me, in the face of my infant” and asks her to sing, “sing a song, Mary. Sing for Grandma and Granda. Sing” – a spectral summoning to the space vacated by religious comforts that echoes the conclusion to McGuinness’ Observe The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, the Elder Pyper leading the ghosts of his WW1 comrades in song and a command to dance, “dance in this deserted temple of the Lord.”

McGuinness offers no solution; indeed there is even a sense of not wanting to be forced to comment – that being Irish doesn’t mean embracing Irish history – in Sal’s desire to come to terms with her history on her own, to “keep myself to myself on that subject, thank you very much,” with nothing further to add or hide. But the core has been exposed; through a life dictated by grief, transformed from flesh and blood to “rock or paper, wood or scissor”, Sal is a moving emblem of any figure irrevocably chained to its past.


Ben Monks is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

The Match Box Show Info

Directed by Lia Williams

Written by Frank McGuinness

Cast includes Leanne Best




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