Good theatre should leave you affected in some way, but great theatre can leave you bruised. Leanne Best’s performance in The Match Box leaves you battered.
A one-woman show, Best’s 100 minute monologue is a harrowing and torturous journey through the experience of losing a child in the most heinous of circumstances, but Frank McGuinness’ emotionally consuming work is also punctuated with moments of joy and beauty.
As Best recounts Sal’s inner thoughts and works her way through the stages of grief – from heartbreaking disbelief to chilling acceptance – her performance takes on a bipolar form. Emotions peak at roller-coaster speed as terrifying, whispered rage is lifted to a moment of lightness in the time it takes Best to break into a smile and noisily rattle into an anecdote at a million miles an hour, all the while the look of mania and horror never leaving her eyes.
Becoming all the characters from her own story, she transforms from Liverpudlian Sal to her cold Irish mother in a second, fiddling her fingers and adopting a slight whine in her voice as she recounts the words of her young daughter or filling her face with horrified empathy to voice the sympathies of her shocked friends.
Entrancing the audience as she walks around the minimalistic set on her toes and beams at individuals, Lia Williams’ direction creates an intimate and inclusive experience that makes the punch all the more painful when Best’s smiles and youthful vitality quickly turns back to grief.
Allowing just a few stylistic touches, fire remains a theme throughout. From the opening scenes, when Sal appears to light matches in order to bring herself back to a state of calm and the smell of sulphur fills the auditorium, the reality of the symbolism behind the flames slowly becomes apparent and, as she illuminates her haunted face by the light of a burning match, Sal flickers like the ghost of a person she has become.
While McGuinness’ passionate script, which finds equal tragedy in the most mundane and the most harrowing of memories, is an incredible feat of writing, it is Best’s all-consuming performance that will live with you long after the lights have come up.