There’s a small room in Liverpool where something devastatingly hypnotic is taking place at the moment. The World premiere of Frank McGuiness’ The Match Box is being performed in the intimate surroundings of the Playhouse Studio, a room in which the audience and stage are pulled together into a world of grief and anguish.
“There was a hole and it was not in my heart. No, that hole, it was my heart.”
McGuiness has created a compelling monologue, surely a daunting task for any actress, but handled expertly by Leanne Best’s portrayal of Sal, someone who has seen her entire world blown apart by a shattering act of violence. So begins a one-woman play that grabs hold of the audience from the moment we take our seats. We find ourselves sharing in the kind of pain that most would find unmentionable, still here it is, offered up to us honestly without pleading for our sympathy. Yet sympathy is the least we can offer a woman who has lost the very thing that made her feel whole. There are obvious parallels between what’s taking place on stage, and the tragic murder of Rhys Jones on the Croxteth Park Estate in 2007. While a play this sublime will find its audience in any setting, there is a deep connection here in Liverpool that will speak to many people on a personal level.
Sal is a woman who is both vulnerable and terrifying. Someone who seems on the verge of hysteria throughout most of the performance, managing to keep control until an animalistic fit of pain grips her toward the conclusion. Best is simply stunning in the role, delivering a flawless portrayal of someone who is struggling with loss, forgiveness, and later vengeance. She delivers what is quite honestly one of the most brutal performances I have ever witnessed, yet for all of the uncomfortable moments; she manages to inject humour into the role. For such a harrowing performance, visceral and unrelenting, we do laugh at times. It’s that surprising laughter that along with her fragility makes Sal such an unforgettable character. This is a performance that will stay with you for years. It’ll tear through your flesh before you go sleep, knock around your head, and most importantly make sure that you never forget the name Leanne Best.
While Best is undeniably the star of a production that includes mesmerising prose, there’s also the expert direction of Lia Williams to consider. Each step has been carefully choreographed, from the refreshingly subtle lightning (Charlie Lucas) to the squalid surroundings of Sal’s home (Colin Richmond) this is a play that has been lovingly brought to life, and deserves nothing but praise.
As the audience stood for a rapturous standing ovation, there were many who looked emotionally shell-shocked. This is the kind of rare performance that keeps on giving, and it’s not one to be missed. I urge you to buy a ticket while you can.