Born an undesirable girl in an Undesirable Country, Marina has a tough childhood, her only peace coming from tending her ungrowing garden planted in frozen soil. Eventually managing to move in with her status-driven uncle, Marina re-invents herself as Matchstick and soon becomes involved in a fairy tale romance with a charming foreigner from the Land of Freedom and Opportunity. But her fairy tale quickly takes a steep drop towards hard reality and her now husband turns out to be quite different from who she (and we) thought he was.
Coming to Ottawa all the way from Saskatoon, Matchstick first premiered here at the 2013 Ottawa Fringe Festival, which is where it gained the attention of GCTC Artistic Director Eric Coates. Having seen and enjoyed the show then, I was quite looking forward to seeing it again at this end of its development and I was the farthest thing from disappointed – enjoying it even more this time, even knowing the big reveal.
Matchstick is performed through whimsical fairy tale story telling, complete with delightfully fun original music – one particular highlight being the “Winter Walk” song – and seriously creative and beautiful shadow-puppetry.
For those who saw Matchstick at the 2013 Ottawa Fringe Festival, the biggest difference you’ll notice is that the production value and polish of the show have been greatly enhanced. Nearly three years and a budget jump coming with the support of a big theatre house like the GCTC will do that. The set and design of Matchstick are simply marvelous. Splendid on all fronts.
Keeping in mind that I last saw the show three years ago amidst seeing 30 plays in two weeks, I’m not confident enough to comment on any changes to the content. I have a few inklings, like feeling that Matchstick has more agency over her story this time, but most would be guesswork. I can say that my review of 2013 Matchstick mentioned “a couple of moments that could probably be smoothed out” and I no longer had any such reservation leaving the show this time. Matchstick was thoroughly entertaining.
Nathan Howe (who also wrote the play) plays Matchstick’s beau as well as a myriad of other distinct characters in her life, including four minor characters presented using an unorthodox form of mask. Lauren Holfeuer is tremendously engaging and impossible to avoid sympathizing with as Matchstick’s life unravels around her. Trapped in a Land of Freedom and Opportunity… for everybody but her.
Much like Matchstick’s own story, the fairy tale qualities of the production are slowly unraveled to let a harsh reality bleed through. This is, in fact, one of the most beautiful and intriguing things about Matchstick: the subtle and progressive ways we travel from fairy tale to reality, slowly pulling back the layers with the steady reveal of information that lets you know when, where, and who things are. In addition to allowing for a high level of engaging story-telling, leaving the audience to pick up on clues for themselves, it allows Howe and Holfeuer to show a great range as their characters change and evolve.
When an important reveal (the important reveal) causes a collective gasp to spread across the entire house, you know you’ve got something special on your hands.
So maybe you should go and see it for yourself.
Matchstick runs at the Great Canadian Theatre Company now through January 31st. More info: http://www.gctc.ca/plays/matchstick
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think. Did you see Matchstick back at the 2013 Ottawa Fringe Festival and notice many differences? How soon did you clue in to the reality of Matchstick? Join the discussion and let me know in the comments below. (Please know that when reading the comments, we will not moderate against spoilers. Consider this your only spoiler warning.)