Many are familiar with the analeptic memory play The Glass Menagerie by critically-acclaimed playwright Tennessee Williams, and it was with a certain knowledgable anticipation that audience members took their seats to view the latest reproduction. Brought to the Nottingham Playhouse by Stephanie Sirr (Chief Executive) and Giles Croft (Artistic Director), its potential was truly realised in the second-half of the production with a gripping performance from the ‘gentleman visitor’, Jim O’Connor (Daniel Donskoy) and the climactic representation of Williams’ psychological symbolism enabling viewers to appreciate this idiosyncratic aspect of his writing.
The opening scene of the play manages to spatially construct the memories of the narrator as the set moves and falls into place to create a homely and domestic space for the characters to inhabit. This is offset, of course, by the remarkable adjacent fire-escape stairs which indicate modern living spaces as the set is true to Williams’ directions of ‘hive-like conglomerations of cellular living-units’. Tom Wingfield (Chris New) is the play’s narrator, and he runs down these stairs as his memories begin to form on stage. He, of course, is the only one capable of such mobility in this family, as his mother and sister are confined within the flat and, ultimately, his recollected memories. The construction of the stage shows us Tom’s strongest memories, with the quarters of his regularly retreating sister being shrouded in a darkness that can only display the limitations of his flashbacks, as well as the spaces more important to him.
“The tragic and tense elements of the play are offered light relief with interjections of comedy”
The Glass Menagerie, then, centres upon Tom’s reflections of his earlier years living with his overbearing and overzealous mother Amanda (Susannah Harker), and his disabled and introverted sister Laura (Amy Trigg). Nicknamed ‘Shakespeare’ throughout the play, Tom is an aspiring poet but instead works at a warehouse. The tragic and tense elements of the play are offered light relief with interjections of comedy, the most notable being expressed through costume when Amanda flounces around the stage in one of her old, antebellum-style dresses. Whilst the first half of the play identifies the tensions in this socially and financially restricted family, the second-half deals with these tensions alongside showcasing a more impressive lighting production and prop use.
The most magical aspect of the play also belonged to the second half, when the stage dimmed and the falling of rain was mimicked with assumed small polystyrene balls that descended in great waves from the ceiling, whilst the rippling lights conveyed a realistic dynamic to the scene. When the characters began to use candles after the failing of their electric bulbs, the stage lights also created a realistic warm glow that moved with the candles. It is this attention to detail that ensures this production of The Glass Menagerie is refined and professional, just like the actors bringing life to these characters.
“The emotional spectrums displayed by the actors animate this play and the conflicting interests manifest a sense of trepidation throughout”
The contradictory catalyst that is Jim O’Connor, who visits the family for a dinner under Amanda’s expectation of a union between him and her daughter, is capable of going from convincing and sympathetic to manipulative and somewhat pathetic in the space of ten minutes under Daniel Donskoy’s animation. His exit from the stage displays a true turning-point in the play, as the hopes of Amanda are dashed. Ironically, this despair means that Tom is free to pursue his ambitions, no longer confined by his mother’s own. The stand-off between the two at the denouement is dramatized with the harsh, white lights bearing down upon them until they dissipate and Tom’s final, poignant soliloquy is delivered. Despite the occasional dropping of the Southern American accents, all of the actors performed their parts well, with Susannah Harker’s depiction of Amanda being particularly characterful in her movements from obsessive and controlling to ditzy and buoyant.
All in all, this reproduction is greatly enjoyable and is successful in relating the main themes of Williams’ drama. The emotional spectrums displayed by the actors animate this play and the conflicting interests manifest a sense of trepidation throughout. It is clear that this production has been carefully considered, with comments by Giles Croft on the staging choices of the play revealing the symbolic significance of many directorial and design decisions. Williams would be proud.
The Glass Menagerie is running at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 26th March. For more information see here.