The central metaphor running through Frank McGuinness’s 2012 monologue The Match Box is almost breath-taking in its simplicity; it’s that all of us, all of our lives, are ultimately as brief, and unknowable in their duration, as a struck match. Repeatedly through this show’s 90 minutes running time, Janet Coulson strikes one match after another, letting some burn to their natural end, while others are blown out quickly. Too quickly, you might even say.
Richard Baron’s touring production for Firebrand Theatre is as muted as its largely empty cold-blue set.
Coulson plays Cal, who is alone on a small Irish island, the ancient home of her family. She worries that it’s so quiet there that she can hear herself breathe, which isn’t good for anyone. So she begins to tell us both what happened to her, and why she has reacted to life’s burnt matches in the way that she has done. So we learn that Sal once lived with her parents in a northern English city; that she got pregnant and subsequently chose to raise a strong-willed, independently-minded daughter called Mary. And then… well, “What happened, happened.”
We learn, pretty early on, that a 12-year-old Mary was killed on the street, an innocent bystander in a foolish gun-wielding dispute within a criminal family which, for numerous reasons, would never be brought to justice by the Police. Subtly and with an often heart-wrenching authenticity, McGuinness shows how a single death has far reaching consequences, tearing the life out of not just mother but doting grandparents. He understands too how the last thing many a grieving person wants is to be comforted by the world; which is why Sal chooses to do her own thing.
Richard Baron’s touring production for Firebrand Theatre is as muted as its largely empty cold-blue set, ensuring that our focus always remains on Janet Coulson, who gives a spell-binding performance as Sal – fully engaging our sympathies even while teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. McGuinness’s script is honest enough to say there’s never an end to grief, but with Coulson’s performance we sense Sal will keep going on all the same.