Review: The Glass Menagerie at Richmond Theatre

November 2015

Review: The Glass Menagerie at Richmond Theatre

The Glass Menagerie is the “memory play” that first catapulted Tennessee Williams to stardom. Don Brown is moved by powerful performances at Richmond Theatre, where it is showing from Nov 3-7

The Glass Menagerie at Richmond Theatre is an impressive and moving production with strong performances from the entire cast. A “memory play” from the pen of Tennessee Williams, the play is described by Tom Wingfield, one of the protagonists, as “truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion” – a memory of events that took place several years in the past, when he lived at home with his overbearing mother Amanda and his disabled and painfully shy sister Laura.

The staging is one room, set back on the stage to emphasise its distance from both the audience and the present. Tom introduces us, letting us know that as a memory play it is “dimly lighted… not realistic” and we see a stage stripped of nearly all furniture and props, with no windows and no homely touches. The actors are barefoot and, although the play is set in 1937, their hair and costumes belong to no particular period, as if to show that that such details are unimportant and distracting, and that it is only the interaction of the characters that is significant.

Headlong Theatre’s production has excellent performances from all four leads. Greta Scacchi’s Amanda (you can read our interview with her) is middle-aged and dowdy in her drab housecoat, constantly talking and fussing, but brings her eyes and body alive when she recalls her youth.

Tom Mothersdale’s Tom teeters between being part of the action and simply reflecting on it, while Eric Kofi Abrefa charms as Jim, at once disappointed with how his earlier promise has faded, while still conveying his optimism about his future. Erin Doherty gives a great performance as fragile and hesitant Laura, brought to life when she talks to Jim.

All of the Wingfields are trapped – Tom in a boring job in a warehouse and by his mother’s constant talking and nagging, Laura by her inability to cope with the world outside the home, and Amanda by the disappointment in how her life has turned out. Tom escapes to the unreality of the movies each night, Amanda to memories of her youth, and Laura to her collection of glass animals – the ‘glass menagerie’ of the title.

Pressured by Amanda, who wants a ‘gentleman caller’ for Laura, Tom invites a workmate, Jim O’Connor, round for dinner. Jim, Tom and Laura had also been at high school together, where Jim had been the most popular boy in school, a sportsman and a performer, and the boy on whom Laura had a powerful crush. The scene where the two connect is among the most moving of the play, though the ending is one of dashed hopes, division and abandonment.

Given the number of school students in the audience, The Glass Menagerie is undoubtedly on this year’s GCSE syllabus – but this production deserves to be seen beyond those who are studying the play. The strong, nuanced performances and the fine direction make this a compelling and moving evening at the theatre.

The Glass Menagerie is at Richmond Theatre until November 7
Discover our interview with Emmy award-winning star Greta Scacchi  

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