The Glass Menagerie

Wed 27th February – Sat 2nd March 2013

reviews

Rose Bonsier

at 11:51 on 28th Feb 2013

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Tennessee Williams has long been considered one of the best American playwrights of the last century, and Falstaff’s production of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ certainly did justice to his work. Carefully stylized to reflect the more self-consciously surreal elements of the play, the cast interacted in a way that demonstrated the conflicting family dynamics between them, providing some outstanding performances from every one of the actors.

One of the tensions of the play is that between conformity and difference, and this production involved a portrayal of four very different characters but still managed to provide performances that worked together beautifully. Letty Thomas’s onstage intensity as mother Amanda Wingfield dominated the first half of the play and carried wonderfully into the second, and her relentless talent and energy kept the audience mesmerized throughout. Exasperated by her children’s struggles and concerned for their future, particularly that of painfully shy and retiring daughter Laura (Alice Kirk), Amanda desperately tries to push them down the paths she sees as providing them with future happiness, which in her mind primarily manifests itself in the form of financial stability. Ed Phillips brilliantly depicts son Tom’s apathetic and disillusioned attitude towards the job he barely manages to hold down at a warehouse, preferring instead to write poetry. His enraged frustration at his responsibility towards his family in the absence of his father is remarkably played out, demonstrated in the highly emotional rows with his mother over his going out and drinking in the evenings as a form of futile escape.

Alice Kirk movingly depicted sensitive Laura’s subsequent distress at her family’s disagreements and difficulty in fulfilling her mother’s desire for her to find a good young gentleman. Her hunched and awkward body language fitted her timidity perfectly, demonstrating to great effect a type of physical movement that you wouldn’t normally see on stage and that was at points unsettling to watch. One scene that particularly struck me was Amanda’s confrontation with her daughter about her absence from business college, and it was in scenes such as this that the attention to detail of directors Maureen Lennon and Theo Scholefield really showed. Walking in to greet her daughter with restrained hostility and annoyance, Thomas then seated herself behind Kirk who was sat low on the floor; this created a chilling sense of intimidation that lingered throughout the scene as Amanda scolded her daughter. Similarly, the touching scene between Laura and Jim (Oliver Bahbout) had a beautiful naturalness and intimacy to it as both the characters lolled on the rug near the front of the stage. Bahbout played out the duplicity of Jim’s character fantastically, conveying at once a nice guy who wants to help Laura build her confidence and also a self-obsessed charmer who unfairly leads her on.

The play’s St. Louis accent could have caused real difficulty, but the actors held a subtle but consistent accent between them with only a few minor slips. At times I felt that the demands of the accent hindered the acting, making delivery slightly cumbersome on occasions, but on balance it added to the performance rather than detracting from it.

The staging had also been meticulously thought through; props were beautifully scattered across the stage, and the clever use of different levels was a real asset to the performance. The intimate scenes mainly occurred at the front of the stage on the rug, which essentially formed Laura’s domain where she played with her glass animals, whereas the dining table was raised at the back, projecting an imposing formality over the space. The railings for the fire-escape stairs were cleverly separated from the rest of the living room, although the railings on the stage itself, whilst used to good effect, did take up rather a lot of space and broke the stage up a bit.

Overall, it was the extra touches that made this particular performance really special, such as the serving and eating of proper meals rather than just a token few pieces of food. Credit must also be given to Luce Dreznin and Kirsty Asher for the perfect costuming which fitted seamlessly with both the era and the characters themselves, and also to Lindsey Russell for the subtle but exact hair and make-up. The use of lighting also had a big impact, and enhanced Tom Wingfield’s final monologue marvelously; this final scene was played incredibly by Ed Phillips and was certainly one of the best and most awe inspiring moments of the play.

Altogether this is a considered interpretation that stays loyal to the original script and vision of the play as much as possible. With emotive and striking performances that evoke empathy for each of the characters and their conflicting points of view, this is a production that will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre.

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