The Match Box – Omnibus Theatre, London

Writer: Frank McGuinness

Director: James O’Donnell

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

The Greek myths are powered by revenge, especially when they tell the stories of women. Medea killed her children when her husband Jason abandoned her, while Clytemnestra killed her husband Agamemnon after he sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia. Frank McGuinness’s one-woman play of 2012 rewrites these myths for a modern age with bullets and TV cameras.

The Match Box starts quietly with a woman explaining her self-exile to the edges of Ireland. She once lived in Britain, and she was once a mother. As she lights safety matches, Sal slowly tells her story of grief. The role of Sal is a formidable one, especially as the play is not short – it extends over two hours – but Angela Marray succeeds in making the character believable. At times, especially in the first half, her delivery is too unvaried, everything is on a single note, and it’s oddly slow and careful as if she is reading the script.

But grief, McGuinness’s play suggests, will rip out your heart and perhaps this is why Sal seems so distant and calm. When her daughter is killed in gun crossfire, Sal refuses to mourn. She doesn’t cry and she doesn’t collapse. Mourning 12-year-old Mary would mean that Sal forgets her in some way, or that she accepts the fact that she has been murdered. So she won’t mourn, causing her friends and family to think that maybe she has lost her mind.

Instead of processing her grief, Sal has gone ‘wandering’ like her ancestors wandered back in Kerry. At first it’s not clear to what she has done on her wandering, but it’s apparent that it is of Greek proportions. And so The Match Box is a slow burn, and James O’Donnell’s direction is leisurely and unfussy. Set in an Irish cottage with white furniture and an exposed wooden floor, all the action comes as recollections. The sand and peat which surround the stage seems a superfluous addition by designer Paul Lloyd, but Amy Daniels’ lights work wonders as Sal’s memories flit from morgues to police stations.

It’s a powerful evening but perhaps The Match Box takes too long to catch fire. In a shortened version, this play would be the perfect companion piece to another updated Greek myth, and again for one woman, Gary Owen’s searing Iphigenia in Splott. In 2019 we have even more reason to rage against the gods.

Runs until 17 November 2019 | Image: Stephanie Claire and Loren Brand

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