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The Theatreguide.London Review

Matchbox Theatre
Hampstead Theatre   Spring 2015

Last year Michael Frayn published a book of short pieces, the sort of things that accumulate in a writer's notebooks over the years.

Director Hamish McColl here puts about two dozen of them onstage, with a cast of six playing a variety of characters in sketches averaging four or five minutes each, and the result is at best mildly amusing. 

To call these pieces slight is to exaggerate their weight. Some are self-contained scenes or monologues, some feel like out-takes from longer works, some may just be false starts. 

They range from minor variations on ancient jokes, like the unstoppable chatterbox on the telephone or the airport flight announcement tannoy that develops a personality and attitude, to more original concepts like the stone couple on a medieval grave who bicker with the familiarity of hundreds of years together. 

A self-referential interrogation scene is an open Pinter parody, while you can hear distant echoes of Alan Bennett in the clergyman's eulogy for the interval just passed, and of Tom Stoppard in a couple of bits built on clever wordplay. 

But for the most part what's on offer are very thin jokes, or set-ups in search of a joke, barely paying off for the brief time they're given. 

What is completely absent is any hint of humanity. It has long been a convention of sketch shows, be they marketed as comedy or theatre, to have one or two pieces with a touch of serious thought or easy pathos, just to leaven things. 

But none of Frayn's scenes, even those built on marital disagreements or individual embarrassments, suggest any reality to the characters or any capacity for emotion in them, and director McColl has not encouraged his cast to add any. 

Occasionally clever but determinedly shallow, too brief and undeveloped to leave much impression, the bits and pieces that make up Matchbox Theatre will vacate your consciousness as quickly as they enter it, and the evening will at best leave you with the vague memory of having occasionally chuckled at you-can't-recall-what.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Matchbox Theatre - Hampstead Theatre 2015

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