The Matchbox

I should start this review by saying that I am a woman but not a mother. Both the playwright and director, I note are men. Whether or not this has a bearing on the play’s failure to evoke in the audience any of the reactions usually elicited by a mother experiencing the death of a child, the reader may decide. However, the fact remains that this play was the least moving work on the topic that I could imagine.

The play opens feeling something like a TED talk. The bizarre directorial decision to use a standard microphone to emphasise certain lines succeeded only in making it more difficult to connect with the dialogue. It contributed, I think, to the biggest weakness of the play, which was its failure to evoke in the minds of the audience a believable history for Sal. I never had a sense her parents, or even her daughter, had ever existed. The seemed like mere plot devices. The only absence I truly felt was that of Jeremy, and Jeremy was a rabbit.

The script itself is riddled with clichéd motifs, such as the eponymous box of matches. The impact of Sal striking them at intervals thought the play is lessened by the accompanying sound effect, that al but once played out of time with the action. In a theatre as intimate as Traverse 2 the real sound was audible, making the repeated mistake unmissable. And then of course there was the most clichéd motif of them all; the use of an eerily sung nursery rhyme, here ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’, which happens, as chance may have it, to subtly incorporate the name of Sal’s lost daughter.

The play wasn’t wholly a failure: Coulson has energy and one might imagine in other roles, charisma. Apart from some slightly questionable moments in her accents she maintained a strong performance and ninety minutes is a reasonably long time for a one woman show. It might have been somewhat harder hitting if it were trimmed down to an hour. There were some nice moments, such as the use of the coat to represent a cold little body in the morgue. The simplicity of the set was nice and the idea of using the newspaper on the back flats was effective although there was scope here to do more. The projection of a window of light onto the back flat was also a nice touch although poorly executed as at times there was too little variation between the projection and the stage illumination for it to be clearly seen, but too much variation for it to be completely gone.

Considering Frank McGuiness’ respectable output prior to this and Traverse’s usually exciting programme, this play did not live up to expectations. Coulson deserves praise for her commitment but she was let down by a poor script and a limited creative vision.

Guest Reviewer: Sophie McAlpine

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