by Michael Frayn.
Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue Swiss Cottage NW3 3EU To 6 June 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 5 June.
Captioned 1 June (+ transcribed post-show discussion).
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 May.
Stage is not a match for page.
Michael Frayn’s brief comic scenes were enthusiastically greeted in book form earlier this year. They have wit and sophistication. But Hampstead’s programme, with its long article on Revue, hints at this show’s problem. A small group of performers plays in various combinations from full company of six down to solo scenes, each establishing its own new setting and characters.
All are easily able to embody recognisable enough characters and make matters comical and clear.
But Matchbox Theatre, published as “a miniature sketch show… to be played in the smallest theatre in the world – the theatre of your own imagination,” is a different prospect from Matchbox Theatre by Michael Frayn, playing at Hampstead Theatre from 7.30pm to around 9.40pm. On the page it’s possible to dwell on some scenes and airbrush others, to enjoy selectively at an agreeable pace.
On stage, while the number of scenes is reduced to around two dozen, there’s still plenty of room for an overload, for less successful scenes to stifle the humorous mood, for there simply to be too much of a (usually) good thing all at once.
And a theatregoing audience, sitting in a theatre, is going to react differently from readers – even theatregoing ones. Matters start very well, as Esther Coles take on theatre-in-the-round. Her pretended encomium demonstrates the form’s drawbacks, something all the funnier because there’s clearly been a lot of work done to shift stage and part of the auditorium to make the acting space.
But an attempt to treat the plot of Hamlet as breaking news is underwhelming; a concept taken nowhere. And a post-interval encomium to ‘the Interval’, while quite witty, wraps itself unhelpfully in the manner of a Mystic.
Most sketches aren’t about theatre, but Revue’s constant weapon, variety, is absent. Only a scene about a onstantly-changing guest list for tea, set to Chris Larner’s straight-faced rendering of ‘Tea for Two’ takes music beyond a few recorded piano phrases.
Tim Downie takes to the material with serious manner and fine comic effect. Overall, though, Hamish McColl’s production doesn’t know how to make this material alight on stage.
Cast: Esther Coles, Tim Downie, Mark Hadfield, Chris Larner, Felicity Montague, Nina Wadia.
Director: Hamish McColl.
Designer: Polly Sullivan.
Lighting: David Howe.
Sound: John Leonard.
Composer: Chris Larner.
Assistant director: Caitlin McLeod.