‘The Glass Menagerie’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by October 12, 2017

‘The Glass Menagerie’ is primarily a captivating, autobiographical story, by the American playwright Tennessee Williams (Williams’s given name was ‘Thomas’, as in the play). He has crafted the story in a genre that he developed, known as ‘a memory play’, where he delivers his memories as Tom. He also tries to look into the minds of other people in his life, endeavouring to work out what they would be thinking in the situations depicted.

Although the play is three-quarters of a century old, it is still as pertinent today, and is certainly not dated.

This delightful classic is being presented by the Garrick Theatre Company, at the Garrick Theatre, 16 Meadow Street, in Guildford.

The two-hour shows have curtain up at 8.00 pm, on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings until 21st October. There are Sunday matinées on the 15th and 22nd at 2.00 pm.

 

The scene is a poor area of St. Louis in 1937.

The very well designed set (Graeme Dick’s first, mentored by George Boyd) has a lane to the left of the house, with the front door in the passage. Facing the audience is a balcony with a French window (constructed by Ray Egan) that leads into the kitchen. A serving hatch goes from the kitchen to the parlour. A large arch with a lace curtain leads into the dining area. This would have been a tricky set to build (completely built by Graeme – who was also the stage manager) as there were three rooms, all of which had to be visible. The walls had pink dappled ‘wallpaper’. The set was charmingly decorated by Graeme, a busy man, with helpful advice from Adrian Ashman.

The props include a photo of Mr. Wingfield (Mitchell Jenkinson), the dashing father who abandoned them, takes pride of place on the wall. A genuine antique vitrola record player stood on the floor – well done, difficult to find. Every fitting was of the period, including an alabaster glass lampshade, a red chaise longue and of course a set of glass miniatures. Great work by the props team, Graeme Dick, Lesley Broughton and Lesley Sutton.

Various pertinent comments relating to the story’s progress were projected onto the house’s external brick wall; Geoff Holt, who also designed the lighting, gathered these. The lighting moods had to cover lightning, night-time, candle illumination and the warmth of the old incandescent lamps. Edi Boross helped in the operation of the lights and sound. Julie Hickling chose the sensitive music.

 

      Tom (Tim Presant) strides to the front of the stage and addresses the audience directly; he explain that this is not a play, more a collection of memories by those in his family.

      Tom is an aspiring poet who toils in a shoe warehouse to support his arrogant and vibrant mother, Amanda (Jacqui Warner). His mother was raised in the Deep South, with a silver spoon in her mouth, but then her parents hit hard times. However, this has not changed her external, supercilious attitude, although one is immediately aware that she is truly hurting inside.

      Frustrated by his tedious job, his domineering mother, and being a loner, Tom enjoys escaping to the cinema and supping more than the odd drink. Mr Wingfield, Tom’s handsome father, left his job at the telephone company and ran off years ago, and except for one postcard to his abandoned family, has not been heard of since.

      Amanda, fears that her painfully shy, 23 yrs. old daughter Laura (Laura Goodlet), who once wore a leg brace – and is ‘still a cripple’ – may never get a boyfriend. Laura spends most of her days listening to records, whilst re-arranging and cleaning her miniature, glass animal collection. In order for Laura to meet people, and become a mogul, Amanda enrolled Laura in a business course.

      At his mother’s suggestion, Tom has been on the lookout for a suitable beau for Laura, and one day at the warehouse, he asks a shipping clerk, Jim (Kael McGrechan), a handsome, caring and ambitious man, if he would like to come around for dinner some evening.

       Could this be the turning point for the whole family?

 

The perfectly tailored costumes not only reflected the thirties in America, but also immediately depicted the personality of the character. Great work by Grainne Freils and her assistant Marjorie de Caux. The crowning glory, Lynda Stubbs wigs was the final touch of authenticity.

This play can be seen as a light, frivolous look at a family – and a couple in the audience thought the final scenes hilarious – or as it is intended, about tragic, complex relationships packed with pathos. First-time director, Siobhán Vincent, has chosen one of literature’s most beautiful and multifaceted plays to present. Siobhán had the task of guiding her cast through the various features of the relationships, involving the many hang-ups and dark memories from the past. In order to lead a stable life, Tom has created his own protective shield, and so tends to view his guilty and murky past in a different light. Laura despite all her physical and mental problems has determination, and unlike her relatives, she shone like a light.

Siobhán had her superlative cast, perfectly trained and rehearsed. Every nuance of their characters came through. This was a real tearjerker, with massive peaks of hope, only to see them, seconds later, dashed onto the rocks.

I have seen this play several times, and this exceptional cast was one of the best. Jacqui was outstanding as the mother – I will send you a bunch of jonquils. She really understood and depicted the maternal love, the frustrations, disappointments, arrogance, and another dozen personality traits. Laura’s frail, tortured innocence was a piece of magnificent acting by such a young actor.

The chemistry between all of the actors was immaculate.

SPOILER ALERT: Tom obviously cares for his sister, but is frequently indifferent and even cruel toward her, and yet they seem to find comfort in each other, especially when their domineering mother is on the rampage. A few comments in the play suggest Tom may be fighting off incestuous temptations and realises the shame linked to such an attraction.

The whole play is sensitively handled; perhaps you may need a box of tissues. This is a ‘must see’ production of a masterpiece.