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A CurtainUp London Review
The Glass Menagerie
by Neil Dowden
Although almost all Williams.s plays arose out of first-hand experience, the Wingfield family.s life in a St Louis tenement bears such a strong resemblance to his own background that it seems to have an especially personal significance. Tom (Leo Bill), part-narrator and part-participant, is clearly a self-portrait of a budding writer desperate to escape from home, but emotionally tied to his overbearing mother Amanda (Deborah Findlay) and vulnerable sister Laura (Sinéad Matthews).
With the head of the family having abandoned them years ago, the three live in straitened circumstances, close-knit but claustrophobic, each with their own individual dreams. Fading Southern belle Amanda reminisces nostalgically about her gracious upbringing when on one day she received 17 gentlemen callers, until she married the wrong man, but now she has to find a husband for her shy, lame daughter, who prefers to lose herself in a world of romantic Vitrola records and her collection of glass animals. When Tom finally brings warehouse colleague Jim (Kyle Soller) home for dinner to meet Laura, illusion and reality collide with devastating effect.
As Tom tells us directly at the start, this is a "memory play", and everything we see enacted is filtered through his guilty, creative consciousness, as if it was a form of therapy or expiation. Joe Hill-Gibbins.s production emphasizes the non-naturalistic aspects of the drama, with Tom orchestrating proceedings, gesturing up the red velvet curtains around the stage like a magician.s conjuring trick and signalling to the musicians to play, while confiding to the audience.
Jeremy Herbert.s split-level design, with the brickwork and fire escapes of the auditorium exposed, dining table raised theatrically on a platform and large photograph of the jaunty but unreliable absentee husband/father staring down from the wall, contributes to this expressionist mood. James Farncombe.s strobe lighting and spotlighting of the glass menagerie also suggest a dreamy, unreal quality, while Dario Marianelli.s evocative score, Eliza McCarthy.s lush piano-playing and Simon Allen.s imaginative percussion (including the use of wine glasses) add much to the atmosphere.
The show takes a while to warm up, with some of the staging seeming over-fussy and performances rather strained, but when it does engage us emotionally we become entranced in Williams.s spell. Bill.s Tom is champing at the bit, angry and sardonic, but loath to emulate his father.s desertion. Findlay may seem too robust for the role of Amanda but her domineering interference is offset by a sense of a single parent struggling to do the best for her children. Matthews gives Laura a naive fragility which (like her beloved glass unicorn) could easily crack, while Soller.s Jim is full of upbeat, probably deluded ambitions — their extended climactic scene together is the highlight of the evening.
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