Theatre review: Matchbox Theatre at Hampstead Theatre

Felicity Montagu and Mark Hadfield in Matchbox Theatre. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Felicity Montagu and Mark Hadfield in Matchbox Theatre. Picture: Manuel Harlan - Credit: Archant

Michael Frayn’s return to Hampstead Theatre doesn’t bring enough laughs, says Alex Bellotti.

Revue theatre – an anthology of short plays or sketches – is a relatively overlooked form in Britain. Imported from Europe, it’s the theatrical equivalent of tapas, but like the former, Matchbox Theatre offers mild entertainment without ever filling you up.

Adopted from Michael Frayn’s collection of 30 short, dialogue-based stories, Hamish McColl’s production does its best with the vignettes, staging them in the round with simple but effective furniture rising from below. We’re introduced to an over-talkative woman telling the council about her sofa, a man who’s sick of his partner finishing his sentences and a doctor who ends up being diagnosed by his patient.

There are some worthy performances: Esther Cole shines as a natty Middle Englander, while Chris Larner brings a comic desperation to most of his roles.

The problem is that the recurring jokes about communcation in married life riff on the same line for too long, and it feels a bit tired to see women mostly portrayed as overbearing and men as frustratingly stifled.

The material is at its best when, like Frayn’s most celebrated work, Noises Off, it becomes a meta examination of theatre itself – whether it’s mourning the end of the interval or deconstructing the problems of theatre in the round.

Strangely though, this feels like a series of scripts better suited to the page than stage. It’s light comedy, often raising a wry smile, but sorely missing belly laughs.

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Rating: 2/5 stars