A fairy-tale folk-musical? Yes, please. Matchstick fits the bill

By Chrissy Steinbock — Thu, 28/01/2016 - 08:48

If you haven’t been to the theatre in a while and are looking for a show to bring you back, you should definitely check out Matchstick now playing at the Great Canadian Theatre Company through to January 31.

Produced by Saskatoon’s Persephone Theatre, Matchstick showcases the impressive collaboration of playwright and performer Nathan Howe, director Kristen Holfeuer and her sister Lauren in the role of Matchstick and costume designer. The show is a prime example of what drives the Fringe theatre scene: hard work, improvisational creativity and a scrappy determination to make it happen. It’s inspiring to see just two performers pull off a show this powerful with fairly minimal resources – some instruments (guitars, a suitcase drums, xylophone), a couple puppets, a cardboard box and some beautiful projection work. Matchstick delivers fairy-tale whimsy, earthy folk music and an affecting look at the bitter taste of broken dreams and being had.

All I can tell you about the story is the same information I went into the theatre with, which is very little because the synopsis is intentionally cagey. All the mystery proves to be a clever setup for an explosive reveal late in the story and boy, is it worth it!

Matchstick is our hardluck heroine living in an “undesirable” country and orphaned shortly after we meet her. She’s a feisty girl whose uncle likens her to a squirrel when trying to marry her off - kind, loud, smart and messy. Like a true fairy tale heroine, she also finds herself wooed by various suitors. Undesirable land or not, she basks in the light of her youth with nights spent dancing, drinking and laughing, each blurring into the next. Then one night at the dancehall, she meets a charming American whose light and spark and maybe just plain difference win her over. He promises her a new life in the land of freedom and opportunity. She soon discovers the man she married is not what he seemed and the new life she hoped for is no more than a wistful dream. Worse yet, there’s no way she can see the fallout to come.

The show grabs you with a winning mash up of childlike whimsy against a creeping sense of unease. The combination is as irresistible as the charming American is to Matchstick when they first meet.

The show first opened at the Ottawa Fringe Festival in 2013 where it won outstanding original work. After touring the national fringe circuit, Saskatoon’s Persephone Theatre picked it up for development into a full production. Though I didn’t see the show’s earliest incarnation, it’s easy to believe Howe when he writes that the team has spent the time between then and now continuously refining the piece. This Matchstick is honed and muscular. Though it has a relatively short run time, it feels abundant and though the cast is small, the mighty pair that is Holfeuer and Howe deliver everything you could ask for and more. 

Nathan Howe has an ease about him both as a writer and an actor. The humour in his writing sort of sneaks up on you and he moves between characters each with their own quirks in voice and gesture with an impressive fluidity. Lauren Holfheuer is a wonderfully expressive actress. She gives us a sweet Matchstick you want to root for even when the odds are bad. Holfheuer also shines for her musicality with a strong sense of melody and a clean vocal tone. Shout outs also to Jessica Gabriel and Chloe Ziner for their imaginative puppetry and projection work. Before I saw their work, I couldn’t have imagined projections serving the action so well. Matchstick is a very tight production altogether. The dramatic and technical elements are so synchronized the audience never has the chance to fall out of the spell they’ve fallen under.

If you’re looking to have your faith in the theatre rekindled, Matchstick is full of spark.

Weeknights until January 31st
Great Canadian Theatre Company
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday: 8pm
Saturday: 4 & 8:30pm
Sunday: 2pm


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