Playing with fire

Leanne has been nominated for a Theatre UK award for her portrayal of Sal Photo: Christian Smith

By David Hennessy

After stunning audiences at Liverpool’s Everyman Playhouse, Frank McGuinness’ emotionally provocative new play The Matchbox is coming to London and The Tricycle Theatre. Set in Valentia, the play finds Sal, a grief stricken mother who has lost her daughter Mary in the crossfire of gang violence. While those responsible were never brought to justice, they did perish and the audience finds Sal lighting matches.

Leanne Best takes on the role of Sal and has been universally acclaimed for her solo performance and even gained a nomination at the Theatre UK Awards. The Liverpool actress tells The Irish World how excited she is to be bringing the show to London: “I’m really looking forward to it. The hope going into it was to start in Liverpool, and then it would go on to have another life and another audience. You don’t ever know until it actually happens.

“When I got the script, I saw it was an extraordinary piece of writing and I was desperate to play the part so I never had any concerns. There’s always the good questions and the right questions to ask which are: ‘It’s an hour and 45 minutes monologue and the material is very emotional, will I be able to do the play and the character justice?’ The response was just fantastic and I was so thrilled, really thrilled.”

The play rests firmly on Leanne’s shoulders. Alone on stage, does it take out of her night after night? “It does. It’s a big ask for an actor to be up there for that amount of time on their own, but then when the material is as wonderful, it’s hard work but it doesn’t feel like work when you’re up there. I think it’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. It has required the most preparation before going into rehearsals just in terms of the sheer volume of text and the content of the play. It is really hard work but it’s the best kind of work and it doesn’t ever really feel like work.”

A harrowing role to play, did Leanne do some special research and preparation to play Sal? “Yeah, before we started rehearsals in Liverpool, Lia (Williams, director) and myself were really concerned with the terrible thing that had happened to this woman. There are people who sadly go through this sort of trauma in their families so we were really concerned with doing everything we could. It’s very interesting because Sal’s response and how she reacts is not necessarily the way everyone would react in that situation and what happens to her as a consequence is a very specific incident.

“Before we started rehearsals me and Lia met up in London for a good few days. She had been doing her research and I had been doing mine but then together we had a good few days around the table, before we even touched the play, just talking about the issues. And then we went to grievance counsellors. This wonderful woman came in to speak to us from an organisation that deals specifically with families that have lost a child to a violent premature death. We spoke to her at great length and what was fantastic was that she had a real knowledge of theatre, she had a theatrical background as  well as being a very respected therapist. She had gone through the play and was able to talk us through these very specific emotions of grief that people will go through when they’re dealing with that kind of a trauma. She was able to use her counselling skills and what she would expect from somebody who would go through something as awful as that so she gave us a really comprehensive insight into the psychological responses that an individual, certainly a mother, would go through in that circumstance. It was absolutely invaluable going into rehearsals.”

For the full interview and the chance to win tickets to see The Match Box at The Tricycle Theatre, see the April 20 edition of The Irish World.

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