Review: The Match Box, Omnibus Theatre

“There’s something quite pleasant about the smell of sulphur.” At least that’s according to Sal. Born to Irish Catholic parents, Sal unexpectedly falls pregnant and gives birth to her daughter, Mary. But when Mary is 12, Sal’s world is turned upside down and she retreats to a remote part of Ireland with only the sheep for company. As she lights match after match, Sal (played by Angela Marray) shares her story and explains the tragic events that led her to live in exile.

The Match Box, written by Frank McGuinness, has received critical acclaim over the years, and now this one-woman show arrives at London’s Omnibus Theatre for a limited run. Directed by James O’Donnell, the play sees Sal talking of happier times when Mary was little, the child desperately wanting a pet rabbit; reliving the fateful day that she learned her 12-year-old daughter had been caught in crossfire, becoming the latest victim of gang warfare; and speaking about the aftermath and her feelings towards Mary’s killers.

In The Match Box’s programme Nick Danan, Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Strange Fish Theatre Company, explains that ‘great stories well told’ is the driving force behind production company, and The Match Box certainly fits the bill. The lighter moments within the play serve to make the darker developments more impactful, and the tension builds beautifully throughout, resulting in a shocking, but not necessarily unexpected, conclusion. Frank McGuinness has written an emotional and thought-provoking tale of a family in the depths of grief; a story of young, innocent lives lost that’s all too relevant what with the recent increase in knife crime across the country. As you listen to Sal’s story it’s impossible not to put yourself in her shoes and imagine what you would do if it was your daughter.

A two-hour monologue is nothing to be sniffed at, particularly when the subject matter is so intense, and Angela Marray does a fine job. From the moment she steps on stage and kicks off her red trainers, Marray casts a spell over the audience and holds their attention throughout. She’s warm and funny at times, and instantly likable as she takes on the voices of others including Mary, her co-workers and parents. A match, Sal says, has a set amount of light and then it’s exhausted, burning itself out, and as the play progresses we see that Sal too is understandably exhausted from recent events. It’s as the story develops, as Sal and her family attempt to deal with their grief, that Marray really excels and her chilling impression of her no-nonsense mother after Mary’s death particularly stands out.

Paul Lloyd’s set is relatively simplistic in its design, with whitewashed walls, wooden chairs and a versatile table which also doubles as a mortuary slab and bed. Amy Daniels’ lighting design is incredibly effective at capturing the changing moods, notably during a press conference scene, a spotlight shining on Sal as she’s exposed to the media.

Where The Match Box suffers is with its pacing, and at just over two hours in length (plus an interval) the play is too long. As a result some scenes seem to drag and overall the play loses its spark. The second act is much pacier and the whole thing would be far more effective as a shorter, more sharp production. However, there’s no denying that this is a dark, compelling tale about grief and justice, with a commendable performance from Angela Marray.

The Match Box is playing at the Omnibus Theatre until 17th November.

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Photo credit: Stephanie Claire Photography

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