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the Complete Review
the complete review - theatre


Matchbox Theatre

Michael Frayn

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Matchbox Theatre

Title: Matchbox Theatre
Author: Michael Frayn
Genre: Theatre
Written: 2014
Length: 173 pages
Availability: Matchbox Theatre - US
Matchbox Theatre - UK
Matchbox Theatre - Canada
Matchbox Theatre - India
  • Thirty Short Entertainments

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Our Assessment:

B : fun, entertaining variety

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 25/11/2014 Mark Lawson
The Spectator . 1/11/2014 Marcus Berkmann
Sunday Times . 9/11/2014 Nick Rennison

  From the Reviews:
  • "They are probably best regarded as short dramas to be read, which means that the book resurrects an old theatrical tradition -- especially in Scandinavia -- of theatrical scripts, such as Ibsenís, being released first as publications rather than productions." - Mark Lawson, The Guardian

  • "Here he seems to be writing for the sheer pleasure of writing. He comes up with a daft idea and he runs with it, but never further than the idea merits. Itís like watching the most abstract, highbrow TV sketch show you can imagine. (...) This isnít exactly a book for the mass market. My guess is that a few clever, light-spirited, linguistically perverse readers will fall in love with it and cherish it forever." - Marcus Berkmann, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Matchbox Theatre is a playful collection. If not quite upending notions of what theatre should or has to be, many of the thirty 'entertainments' are more page- than stage-play(let)s and there's a subversiveness to much of what's on offer here -- beginning with the collection's patron-greeting that asks readers to check that their phones and other electronic devices are all on: "Your calls are important to us !" and, rather than presenting the usual litany of prohibitions, is fully encouraging:

Photography is permitted throughout. Please feel free to obstruct the aisles. Leave luggage unattended ! Talk among yourselves ! Eat ! Drink ! Sleep ! Snore ! Storm out in the middle, if you feel like it, letting your seats thump up and crashing the panic bolts as you go !
       Easy to say to someone holding a book in their hand, of course. But Frayn encourages the ambiguity of what this collection actually is: midway through there's an entertainment titled 'Intermission', and one of the two voices notes:
I'm totally confused. Like, are we in a theatre, or are we in a book.
       There's no obvious answer:
So, we're in a book.

- For the moment. Or a theatre, of course. Or neither. Or both. It's that kind of thing.
       All these pieces are, more or less, stageable, but they are largely the sort of things that can readily -- and in some cases likely more pleasingly -- be played out in the mind. The situations range from the mundane to the inspired, with Frayn offering many amusing twists to his little pieces. So, for example, 'Cold Calling' is presumably inspired by the fact that Nobel laureates are caught unawares by the early morning call from Stockholm telling them they've won the big prize, which Frayn considers from another perspective, while 'Outside Story' offers a news-program report checking in with a reporter standing outside the National Theatre, reporting on the goings-on in there -- treating the performance (of Hamlet) as if it were a real-life drama.
       Several pieces, printed in two columns, have side-by-side scenes or conversations. The most amusing, 'Bing Bong !', finds two "anguished lovers" in an airport departure lounge, saying their final farewells before they head to their separate flights -- interrupted by the public address announcements of boarding calls for various flights. Frayn beautifully captures the difficulty of paying attention to the announcements during any sort of conversation -- and then adds a nice further twist to the resulting confusion.
       There are numerous monologues, too, and even where the ideas aren't entirely original, as in 'Contraphonium', the monologue of an orchestra-musician with almost no notes to play counting down the measures to his brief appearances, they're invariably nicely done.
       Frayn ranges quite far in his 'thirty short entertainments', and the variety helps keep the collection fresh. Not everything is unfamiliar here, but even that Frayn often uses to advantage, playing off of theatre-tropes with the sure hand of the true professional.
       These are smaller pieces, but often fully and perfectly formed: some ideas don't need to be played out any further. The sheer number and range makes for a somewhat motley collection, but there's some helpful structure, too: a notice welcoming patrons, for example, or an actual 'Interval'-scene -- which is then cleverly followed by 'Memorial', a remembrance of the interval. If the reader remains unsure whether s/he's in a theatre or in a book, Frayn skillfully exploits and relies on the characteristics of both in his presentation.
       Matchbox Theatre is an enjoyable collection, perfect for dipping into, a piece or two at a time.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 March 2015

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Matchbox Theatre: Reviews: Michael Frayn: Other books by Michael Frayn under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See the index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review
  • See the index of Drama at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Michael Frayn was born in 1933. He is best known as a playwright. He has also written several acclaimed novels.

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© 2015 the complete review

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