“Take a match to their thatch”
Frank McGuinness is definitely a playwright who never likes his audience to sit too comfortably and his latest play The Match Box is as emotionally demanding a piece of theatre as you’ll see in a long time. Sequestered on a remote Irish island, it’s a 100 minute monologue delivered by Sal, a Liverpudlian woman in exile after the violent death of her 12 year old daughter, caught in gangland crossfire as she walked home from school. And through the depths of her unimaginable grief, a tale of revenge and redemption emerges as the boundaries of forgiveness are tested to the extreme.
McGuinness constantly challenges us as we return to questions of what kind of justice, if any, can be exacted in such a situation and whether we could ever be capable of rational thought after such an experience or if such grief can have a transformative effect on us that we allow primal impulses to govern our actions. The debates it raises are compelling and complex and as Sal unravels her own feelings on the matter, its intensity forces us to confront our own morality and decide if things can ever be so black and white.
And under expert direction from Lia Williams, Leanne Best really does do a magnificent job as Sal, combining fierce rage and despair with a more reflective mood that breaks in occasionally as she reminisces about happier times and brings in other voices from her community. Williams ensures the mood of the piece is constantly shifting and keeping us engaged, Best directly addresses the front row at times, and the dry sense of humour that permeates the text adds the necessary texture to keep it from a slight sense of monotony that occasionally threatens.
But it remains a remarkable piece of theatre, a testament to the power of the monologue as a dramatic form and the kind of performance that will undoubtedly live long in the memory, especially in its excoriating final moments.