Writer: Frank McGuinness
Director: Richard Baron
Reviewer: Emily Hall
In ninety minutes acclaimed Irish playwright Frank McGuinness depicts the complete transformation of single Irish mother upon the sudden loss of her twelve year old daughter. Dark and captivating, the Scottish premiere of The Match Box at Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh unsettles as much as it compels.
Janet Coulson delivers the monologue as Sal, at first an unassuming presence contemplating a perplexing new reality alone on an Irish island with only sheep for company, and then suddenly a mother so overtaken by grief she takes the audience with her. She effortlessly animates personality and demeanour that chillingly vanish as her world is consumed by her daughter’s death.
The play is interspersed with mediations on the nature of grief, of family and of justice. The death was sudden: an accidental assassination when a bullet meant for someone else or no one at all catches Mary on a normal school day. McGuinness cruelly contextualizes the violence within a seemingly endless loop of mothers pleading for information on their children’s murderers on news channels. Every element of the trauma and the loss is visceral and vivid. Sal’s grief is almost gratuitously depicted, forcing each member of the audience to immerse themselves in the bleak, empty world of a single mum suddenly alone, her life stolen out from under her feet leaving her to deny, writhe and scream.
The details are not poignant but searing. Each audience member is forced to think of their own mother, of their own experiences with and fear of loss.
After the shooting, Sal moves back in with her aging parents. Coulson’s monologue manages to brilliantly impart the rich cultural context delivered by Sal’s father as he recalls the justice of his youth in Ireland, condemning his granddaughter’s cowardly shooter and warping Sal’s sense of reality.
Throughout the monologue, sounds seem louder. Each time Sal strikes a match the noise is amplified, echoing throughout the theatre. The non-linear storytelling is the saving grace of the play. As Sal goes from her happy home in England with her daughter to the island of her exile where she appears in the first moments of the monologue the story nears its sense of conclusion. Without the small comfort of knowing the sombre ending ahead of time, the loss and the trauma may have been too vivid, the gravity too real.
Runs until 17 February 2018 | Image: Contributed