The Matchbox

This review from Essentially Surrey is from September 2019 and the production at Clapham Omnibus.

Angela Marray gives a bravura performance in Frank McGuiness’s emotionally charged study of pain and loss. Don Brown sees The Match Box at Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre.

Sal is living on a small island off the coast of Kerry. She is physically isolated – she’s left her English home and friends to live in the place from where her Irish parents emigrated. She endures (or has constructed) emotional isolation, removed from the lives of her cousins, aunts and uncles.

Over the 100 minutes of the play, we unpick the layers of Sal’s secret, as the story turns through loss, grief, absence and revenge to a catharsis of sorts, as Sal acknowledges her deep emotional pain caused by the shocking death of her 12-year-old daughter.

Compulsively lighting matches, Sal reflects on how we don’t know how long each match will burn. Each has “its own time to flare… its own span of life”, and in the first half of the play, this seems an obvious metaphor for the life of her child. But as Sal’s story progresses this burning hints at something altogether less metaphorical: “ I’m the smell of sulphur or brimstone…come near me and I will burn you.”

Frank McGuiness’s play is a gruelling study of how we deal with extreme grief and loss, of a woman who has “a hole where my heart was”. It’s a one-woman show, with Sal (Angela Marray) talking directly to the audience throughout, occasionally inhabiting other characters in Sal’s life – her mother, father, friends and acquaintances.

Marray captures the emotions of Sal wonderfully, with an expressive face and physicality, taking us further into Sal’s suffering. Occasionally the words that are spoken don’t seem to belong to Sal, but I think this is an issue with the play itself – at times it seems more like a short story to be read rather than a play to be performed.

Blood Wedding

This review is from Essentially Surrey in September 2018 and is about the Clapham Omnibus production.

maria-de-lima

Lorca’s 1932 tragedy has been reimagined in an exceptional new production at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham. The original’s themes of fated love, vendetta and passion have been overlaid with the concerns of contemporary London – the experience of immigrant communities, of maintaining one’s cultural identity in a foreign city, and the ways in which wealth and poverty exist side by side in the 21st century capital.

This staging also brings in elements of physical theatre and music, particularly at the start of the second half, when the conventional characters are replaced by sundry ‘Greek choruses’ of street sweepers, a bag lady and the moon – the ever-present but unnoticed of the city, who see all.

The tragedy is prefigured from the opening dialogue between the Mother (Maria de Lima – an incredible performance throughout) and Son (Federico Trujillo). The mother saw her husband murdered and, decades later, is still consumed with grief, keeping herself apart and forever cleaning her house, as if she could wash away the memory of the murder.

The son is anglicised, born in London to Spanish immigrant parents, running a successful restaurant and engaged to the daughter of a shopkeeper. Her former lover is Leo (who is from the same family as the murderer of the Son’s father), who married on the rebound and now feels trapped by his marriage and his shortness of money.

The unresolved passion between the fiancée (Rachael Ofori) and Leo (Ash Rizi), is what destroys the wedding day and brings the play to its tragic conclusion. But although the story is one of death and pain, the play is shot through with humour and there are great performances from a universally excellent cast.

The Seagull

This review was originally published on the Essentially Surrey website in November 2018.

Konstantin wants to be a writer, but his work is ridiculed by his mother Irina, a famous actress. Irina (Lesley Sharp) is in love with Boris (Nicholas Gleaves, Sharp’s real-life husband), who is a famous and successful writer, who becomes infatuated with Nina, a local girl who wants to be a famous actress; Irina is jealous of both that relationship and Nina’s youth. Konstantin is in love with Nina, so is jealous of Boris. Running parallel to this, Pauline, the wife of the estate manager, is having an affair with Hugo, the local doctor, while Pauline’s daughter Marcia loves Konstantin, but marries Simeon, a schoolteacher, as she knows Konstantin will never love her.

It sounds like the plot of a farce, but Chekhov’s play is a tragicomedy, following these destructive relationships through the seasons, from the optimism and promise of spring to winter’s cold and bitter conclusion – suicide, betrayal, adultery, madness and failure. As we follow the characters on this journey we hear them meditate on the nature of art and of theatre, and on modern concerns of fame and celebrity. Continue reading “The Seagull”

The Blue Plaques and famous names of Putney, SW15

A short piece I did for Essential Surrey on Putney’s history, and some of the famous people associated with the area.

Now a thriving, popular and leafy suburb of London, Putney is recorded – as ‘Putenhie’ or ‘Putelei’ – in the Domesday Book as a ferry and a fishery, and for much of its history was a small village well outside the orbit of the capital. Despite this, it has produced or been the home of a number of people who had a significant impact on the country.

This includes Thomas Cromwell, the ‘enforcer’ to Henry VIII who rose from being the son of a Putney blacksmith to the King’s Chief Minister. It was Cromwell who pushed through the break with the Catholic Church and the dissolution of the monasteries, and Cromwell who was the moving force behind the executions of Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More. He met the same fate himself in 1540, when Henry had him beheaded on Tower Hill, after Cromwell had arranged Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves, and Anne proved to be less attractive than her portrait (Henry is said to have called her ‘The Flanders Mare’.)

Cromwell is the anti-hero of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ (the third in the trilogy is due out this year), and Mantel unveiled the Putney Society’s plaque to Cromwell at Brewhouse Lane in 2013. However, all the historical evidence indicates that the home of his father was almost a mile away, on the fringes of Putney Heath, possibly on the present site of the Green Man pub, so why the Society chose the spot it did is something of a mystery.

Continue reading “The Blue Plaques and famous names of Putney, SW15”