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Theatre The Match Box, Omnibus Theatre London

Brilliant meditation on the fragility of existence from Frank McGuinness

THIS tale of grief and loss by Frank McGuinness opens with Sal, on a remote Irish island, telling us that she “won’t talk about my daughter” but who then proceeds, almost unknowingly, to share the devastating tale of how her daughter died at 12 years of age in what's an engrossing and emotionally affecting narrative.

Sal’s story, though delivered as a monologue, is the length of a full-blown play and as dense with detail. Though delivered solely by Angela Murray, the illusion is of vivid and red-blooded characters, as if a dozen actors were on stage.

Though Paul Lloyd’s atmospheric set, with the sand and shells of this ghostly island a spiritual home for Sal, is seemingly grounded in one place yet she nevertheless meanders elsewhere through time and space — from the bedroom with its rabbit hutch to the mortuary slab and from the media news desk to the cold, hard and unhomely house where the police come to visit.

Actor, director and technical team coalesce in a fine production but it is the superb writing that enables it to soar. Truthful, fearless, uncompromising and totally without cliche, McGuinness’s words speak straight to the heart and, even further, to something intrinsic in our make-up. This is the skill of the true poet.

It's a riveting production from The Strange Fish Theatre Company under James O’Donnell and Murray bears the weight of it, with only the occasional lapse of intensity.

Alone on stage for over two hours, she is both Sal and a range of others — warm confidante and glassy-eyed demon, mum at the school gate and a primaeval savage, bereaved and forgiver. She knows everything and nothing; she is a living flame smelling of sulphur and a dead, dead matchstick on the barren ground.

We watch in awe as the play penetrates not just the wells of grief that could beset anyone but conjures a vivid and startling portrait of what it is to be human.

In the end, it is about the closeness to, and the all-too-easy easy transition between, the flickering and the spent match.

A thing of beauty.

Runs until November 17, box office: omnibus-clapham.org

 

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