Saturday 20 January 2018

Review: Powerhouse performance lights a fire in The Match Box

Theatre: The Match Box, Townhall Theatre, Galway

The Match Box: Cathy Belton never overplays material
The Match Box: Cathy Belton never overplays material

Sophie Gorman

How can a mother cope with the senseless murder of her 12-year-old daughter? This is the egregious question at the heart of Frank McGuinness's one-woman play The Match Box, which is receiving its Irish premiere at the Galway International Arts Festival.

Set in a remote Valentia Island cottage, we meet Sal, English-born but unquestionably Irish-bred. She narrates the story of how she got here, revealing impossible grief, pain, strength, retribution and, ultimately, irremediable guilt. She punctuates her narration by burning matches, "something pleasant about the smell of sulphur". But Sal is not really playing with fire, she is playing with life, as fragile as a flickering flame. And this play has the power to trigger strong personal reactions.

We learn that Sal had a daughter called Mary, "for my mother". One day Mary was on her way home from school when she was caught in the crossfire of street gang warfare. A stray bullet. A mother's agony.

There are touches of Biblical parables and Greek myths about McGuinness's writing, which is perhaps no surprise given the Greek tragedies McGuinness has translated. However, the pace and energy of the material do occasionally dip and it could be slightly pared back. The music, composed by Teho Teardo, and its cues could add more to the emotional tone of the production. But it is lifted high by a most masterful performance by Cathy Belton (pictured above) who never overplays material that could in other hands at times stray into melodrama. And she is directed with great sensitivity by Joan Sheehy.

This is Belton at her best and she is staggering, emotionally devastated and devastating.

Irish Independent

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