The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, says the narrator, Tom Wingfield, at the beginning. He knows what’s going to happen. He tells us it will be the arrival of that long-delayed something we live for.
The set glows, the impression is of warmth and welcome although it’s the small interior of an impoverished 1930s apartment in St Louis where Tom lives with his mother and sister. The apartment is entered by means of a fire escape, which stretches way up into the dark, as if it’s a ladder to the stars.
Which is a metaphor for something else this play is about. The ways in which people’s minds may reach in isolation for their own secret dreams and illusions while daily sharing physical places. A woman requires a man as a financial necessity in these times.
Tom, played by Michael Esper, works in a warehouse in a job he detests while longing to be a writer. He’s been obliged to take on the financial responsibility for his mother, Amanda and fragile sister, Laura, because his father has long ago wandered off into irresponsibility, to explore the world. As Tom wishes to, as Tom knows he will, looking back on the events he’s describing in the play. He’s the bad son of a bad man, he says.
Cherry Jones played Amanda in director, John Tiffany’s original production of the play which opened on Broadway to considerable acclaim. Her appearance in this role at the Duke of York’s Theatre marks her West End debut where Miss Jones is commanding as the great stage character that is Amanda Wingfield. A woman who attempts to control her adult children while they evade her, just as their father did, Amanda is desperate to ensure the family’s continued survival by whatever means she must, dealing with her straightened circumstances with bravado and dash, sometimes delusion. Her melodramatic propensity for bragging about the supposed glory days of her youth makes her appear ridiculous at first.
But it is Amanda’s inner world of the delight of reminiscence, whether embellished or not, which carries through the difficulties of her impoverished, disappointing present. As she ruminates about other lives she might have enjoyed, if only she had not fallen in love with the man she did. As she tells her daughter to wish for happiness and a little luck.
Tom and his mother explore their relationship in the first act, bound together in place but isolated from one another in strident frustration and resistance. He fights with his mother to claim his identity as she fights the same old desperate battles she must once have fought with his father, seeking to make him stay.
It is Laura, played by Kate O’Flynn, who brings beautiful nuance and delicacy to this family and also to this production. She slips into Tom’s memory of the family sitting room through the back of the sofa. She’s a delicate, crippled girl, who thinks little of herself, aware she is strange, not like other girls. For Laura is by inclination solitary, visiting the penguins at the zoo daily while pretending to be at college. She also has a collection of ornamental glass animals, one of which is a unicorn, she loves to play with. When Laura’s alone, as she engages with this tiny menagerie, many small lights reflect in the water pools surrounding the hexagonal petals on which the set sits. It’s a beautiful, moving representation of the world of the imagination.
Laura is forced by her mother to participate in a meeting with her brother’s friend from work, played by Brian J Smith. Hilariously, Amanda welcomes this Gentleman Caller to her home in the Southern Belle style dress she was wearing when she first met her no-good husband, and proceeds to flirt with him.
It is however when Amanda and Tom have left the stage to Laura and her Gentleman Caller that magic happens. What is conjured up between the pair of them is the creation of a memory sufficiently tender to haunt them both for the rest of their lives.
Brian J. Smith and Kate O’Flynn work perfectly together, his masculinity, her femininity, their characters different natures complementing one another as they open up sufficiently to one another to discover they are able to share and marvel at each other’s inner worlds. How they shine, these two as they do that.
Go. It’s a wonderful, unforgettable production.
Review by Marian Kennedy
Time is the longest distance between two places.
Following a multi-Tony Award-nominated run on Broadway, Oliver and Tony Award-winning director John Tiffany (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two, Let the Right One In, Black Watch) revives his visionary staging of Tennessee Williams’ heart-rending masterpiece about a family struggling to survive on hopes and dreams.
A domineering mother. A daughter lost in a world of her own. A son desperate to leave. Former Southern Belle Amanda Wingfield, played by Tony Award-winning Broadway icon Cherry Jones, enlists the help of son Tom (Michael Esper) to find a husband for her fragile daughter Laura (Kate O’Flynn). But will the long-awaited ‘gentleman caller’ (Brian J. Smith) fulfil or shatter the family’s delicate dreams?
A universally acclaimed creative team bring 1930’s St Louis stylishly to life. With movement by Olivier Award-winning Steven Hoggett, Set and Costume Design by multi Tony Award-winner Bob Crowley, Lighting Design by multi Tony Award-winner Natasha Katz, Sound Design from Olivier and Tony Award-winning Paul Arditti and Music by celebrated composer Nico Muhly, this is a stunning and evocative production of Tennessee Williams’ heart-breaking classic.
The Glass Menagerie
Duke of York’s Theatre
45 St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4BG
Book Tickets for The Glass Menagerie
- Running Time: 2 hours 40 minutes
- Show Opened: 26th January 2017
- Booking Until: 29th April 2017
Book Tickets for London West End at www.londontheatre1.com