A striking performance

Leanne Best in The Match Box. Picture: Christian Smith

5 stars

By David Hennessy

A mesmerising and outstanding performance from Leanne Best makes The Match Box a must see while it is currently playing at The Tricycle, the London premiere of Frank McGuinness’ new play which has been lauded at Liverpool’s Everyman and Playhouse.

Alone onstage for an hour and 45 minutes, Leanne plays Sal, from Liverpool, who shares her horrific story of losing her daughter, gunned down when caught in gang crossfire. The actress was nominated for a Theatre UK award for her stunning portrayal of the grieving mother. When police are unable to provide justice for the killers are protected by a wall of silence, Sal takes things into her own hands but in doing so, loses her parents and becomes something of an outcast to those who consider her “bad luck” after retreating to the quiet island of Valentia. Striking matches throughout, she reveals the suspects perished in a fire.

The show’s star Leanne Best told The Irish World in a recent interview about how she met with a grievance counsellor and this was obviously invaluable preparation as she conveys Sal’s denial, sorrow and rage.

An extremely absorbing and engaging performance, there are times when you could almost utter “What happened then?” or another question and this is testament to how well Leanne makes you feel she is talking to you. She connects with all sections of the crowd at different times, sometimes maintaining eye contact. Leanne’s sudden bursts of energy such as slamming a chair against the wall heighten the drama at the moments of intense feeling while her pauses and moments of silence also give it the realistic feeling of someone sharing their story.

Leanne Best, playwright Frank McGuinness and director Lia Williams pictured at The Tricycle last week. Picture: Lucia Butler

The play also rings true thanks to McGuinness’ excellent writing that goes into such detail about the event and its aftermath. It is also poetic and powerful particularly when Sal speaks of police coming to her house after her daughters’ killers have burned to death in a house fire when an enraged Sal spits: “We never had much use for you boys in blue. You didn’t do me or my daughter any good, did you?” This is followed by calculated words of condolence to be passed on to the killers’ mother, much like the empty ones offered in the other direction by the woman who gave her guilty sons an alibi.

Also very compelling is when Sal reflects on the press conference when she was supposed to appeal for information that could lead to a conviction but refused to rehearse or allow anyone to know what she intended to say: “I will have my say and no one will stop me”.

It may sound unlikely but the play does throw up some laughs, mostly when Sal imitates her mother, father or others in an Irish accent and also musing about why safety matches are so called (“Does that mean they don’t burn ya?”).

Plays often run all the way through with no interval so as to not break an actor’s break but with this play, it also suits the audience as it is so compelling, no one would be getting restless halfway through. You are more than likely to leave finding it hard to believe you were so engrossed for an entire hour and forty five minutes. The Match Box is highly recommended while is so showing at The Tricycle.

The Match Box is at The Tricycle until June 1. For more information go to: http://www.tricycle.co.uk/.

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