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The Match Box

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Leanne Best showed up well in Frank McGuinness' over-insulted, if not exactly underrated, version of Damned by Despair at the National last year, and here she is again in an original text by McGuinness that fully displays the range of her talent and the density of her spiritual grace on the stage.

Best plays an Irish Liverpudlian single mother, Sal, who likes the sulphur smell of struck matches and uses them to ignite her solo story of losing a daughter, whom she conceived when a schoolgirl, hating her parents, losing them, and returning home to a small island off the coast of Kerry and dealing with grief.

If this uninterrupted solo performance of 105 minutes, first seen at the Liverpool Playhouse studio last year, weren't so well acted, or so well written, it might sound like a string of clichés prompted by thoughts of homeland and the sort of crass accidental cross-fire murder we read about in the papers all the time (in Liverpool or South London).

But Best surprises us with her reactions to the tragedy, the reprisals she might or might not have initiated, and the physical elegance with which she commands the stage, and our attention, in a really thoughtful production by Lia Williams, using her Pinter expertise as an actress to very good effect.

It takes a little time to adjust to exactly where we are, and to the curious Scouser/Kerry accent, but Best is a lithe and striking performer, seemingly devoid of mannerisms, with dark good looks, long, eloquently tapering fingers, and inner reserves of anger, sorrow and emotional self-analysis.

Colin Richmond's design of a remote and uninhabited country shack, adorned with a forlorn crucifix and rudimentary furniture, is beautifully lit by Charlie Lucas, so that McGuinness' eleven slabs of narrative acquire a sort of religious significance, like Stations of the Cross on the way to Sal's Calvary of brimstone and sulphur.

It's a wonderful piece of work, and Best's sad, lyrical, astonishing performance deserves to draw the town along the Kilburn High Road.


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