Theatre review: The Match Box

Galway International Arts Festival

Theatre review: The Match Box

Making its Irish premiere at this year’s Galway Arts Festival, there’s a seductive shape-shifting quality to Frank McGuinness’s monologue play, which is matched by a deft performance from actress Cathy Belton as a grief-stricken mother seeking an elemental justice for the cruel loss of her 12-year-old daughter.

The play starts out deceptively as a naturalistic piece about bereavement, but as it progresses it makes a number of striking transitions in tone. By the end, it has evolved into a Greek tale of justice, revenge, and exile, but also into a quasi-Catholic ghost story about the temptations of evil.

McGuinness makes these allusions sing together very provocatively, yet the impact of what is quite a brilliant story is also unfortunately muted by a text that is overlong and too diffuse.

A section midway through, in which Belton’s Sal describes her inability to comprehend her friends and the police as they break the news of her daughter’s killing to her, is painfully laboured, for instance. It adds very little but runs for the best part of 10 minutes.

Despite the tendency to forfeit momentum, Belton maintains an easy but unwavering grip on the audience’s attention.

Moving constantly from one section of the stage to another, she is the embodiment of restlessness and displacement.

More significantly, she convincingly makes Sal’s stoic, polite ‘decency’ and her venomous wrath part of the same fluid psychology. She also very subtly teases out the wry allusions to Irish and English history that McGuinness wonderfully weaves into the mix late on.

Director Joan Sheehy manages the alternating moods of the piece very well, exploiting the use of light and sound to stirring effect, and, as you’d expect from a McGuinness play, there are many lyrical images and captivating passages of prose.

But, despite all its countless virtues, the piece would simply pack more punch were it considerably shorter in duration.

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