Dir. Richard Baron, Citizens Theatre, 20-24 February
Journeying through grief and loss to revenge and loneliness, Firebrand’s latest production of Frank McGuinness’s one-woman play is as heart-wrenchingly tragic as it is empowering. Sal, played by the triumphant Janet Coulson, finds herself in the depths of grief after the unforeseen death of her only daughter, and soon the audience watches as her psyche unravels and her strength is pushed to the limit.
Coulson’s performance is a powerful portrayal of a woman battling grief with hardiness and conviction. In a similar vain to Martin McDonagh’s Mildred Hayes, Sal asks for and accepts no sympathy; she uses a press conference to tell her daughter’s killers that she forgives them and then declares to those watching that she simply wants to be left alone. However, Coulson’s deliverance reaches further emotional depths than that, culminating in a powerful scene where she is on her hands and knees screaming, crying, yearning for her daughter.
What transcends all of these emotions, through Coulson’s overriding tenacity, is the power of a mother, the power of a woman. ‘The Matchbox’ may be a truly devastating story of death and loss, but what transpires is an empowering tale of one woman’s relentless fortitude.
The Citizens Theatre’s Circle Studio makes for an ideal backdrop to Coulson’s painfully vulnerable performance. With only 100 seats, the play is brought to a new level of intimacy that the subject matter perfectly lends itself to. Richard Baron’s intricate direction must also not be overlooked. By forming a bare and bleak set, Baron created an actualisation of Sal’s world. Devoid of colour and happiness, the back wall covered in faded newspaper headlines, he reminds us that her past will haunt and torture her forever no matter how far she runs.
2018 being the revival year of McGuinness’s female-empowered play is not without its own significance. With characters like McDonagh’s Mildred Hayes arriving on the scene, and Greta Gerwig being the first female in eight years to be nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards, now seems like a better time than ever to celebrate what it means to be a woman.