Matchbox Theatre at the Hampstead
The days of theatrical revue are all but gone from British theatres in modern times, instead replaced by all encompassing immersive experiences, or deep examinations of the human psyche and contemporary life. The audience becomes part of the theatre, or party to it. Comedy performed dramatically is often done musically, but musicals regularly fail to bother composing new songs.
Tony award-winning Michael Frayn’s Matchbox Theatre at the Hampstead Theatre seeks to rectify that. With twenty-two short plays in a little over two hours, Matchbox Theatre brings to life Frayn’s book of the same name, published last year. The title refers to miniature toy theatres purchased by the author, and the plays on stage which are – in the words of one character – “small enough to fit in a matchbox”. Set in the round and carried by a cast of six, Matchbox Theatre sets off on a sprint and never pauses. The plays cover a variety of topics, from the domestic to the political, and their humour ranges from the ironic to the satirical, via the farcical and witty. The cast are unwavering in their commitment and admirable in their energy, seamlessly transitioning between characters and plays as the stage whirls and drops beneath them.
Naturally, some plays hit the spot better than others: a satirical sketch on the nature of some modern theatre, played out as a dialogue between torturer and victim is well staged but drawn out. Its message becomes less coherent as the play continues, where the simple monologue of a dejected orchestral member sparkles, and draws the biggest laugh of the night. Hamish McColl’s (The Play What I Wrote) staging is vibrant and aesthetically pleasing, if frantic at times.
The short, disjointed nature of the revue style naturally excludes deeper exploration of themes or characters, with the ultimate conclusion leaving audiences lacking a feeling of something more substantial, like quaffing aperitifs before dinner. Matchbox Theatre is dazzling, but ultimately unsatisfying. Exploration of the human condition is for other plays and art forms; for an evening of light, breathless entertainment, Matchbox Theatre is just the spark.
Matchbox Theatre is at the Hampstead Theatre from 25th April until 6th June, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch preview and behind the scenes footage here:
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