Frank McGuiness’ dramatic monologue The Match Box explores the pain of losing those closest to you, and the isolation that ensues. Unfortunately, Jane Coulson’s interpretation falls flat by failing to hit the required emotional punches despite the desperately sad subject matter.
Sal (Coulson) begins with a story from the character’s childhood, whilst lighting a match occasionally. The narrative then flashes forward to Sal’s early unplanned pregnancy, and we witness her decide to keep the child with the support of her parents. The child grows up to be a beautiful young girl called Mary whose tragic death is the source of all Sal’s pain and struggle throughout the rest of the play. The long monologue takes the audience through the story of how Sal survives this trauma, while maintaining mental control in dealing with the horrific procedures following the death of a child, as well as other painful experiences.
The set was simplistic, and props were minimal except for a table, some chairs, a matchbox and the mic. Amongst such a sparse setting, the production lacked the impression of finesse, appearing almost improvised by the actress, whose performance appeared somewhat casual – undermining the serious nature of the subject matter. Sound effects were often utilised to enhance the lighting of the matches, which often failed to make an impact as synchronising with the motions on stage is obviously difficult. The direction of the play seemed lost, and the medium of monologue meant the required ebb and flow of tension within a performance became monotonous. The only way the play could win the audience’s sympathy was through the strength of the plot and identifying with the character of Sal. Unfortunately, as a member of the audience, one failed to connect with the story because the use of monologue meant enduring Sal’s pain with nothing to anchor it to the world surrounding it. Having said this, there were some in the audience who were moved to tears, perhaps feeling a connection to a reality within the script.
The symbolic use of matches as a channel for Sal’s emotions was tenuous, and although she screams “I am sulphur” by the end of the play, the use of matches appeared to be both random and forced. The deaths of two characters engulfed in fire serves a sort of poetic justice for the death of her child, but leaves the play somewhat loose-ended and without a moral foothold.