Joe Hill-Gibbins’ production of Tennessee Williams’ ‘memory’ play, The Glass Menagerie, is one you won’t forget. Introduced as a play that gives “truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion”, Hill-Gibbins and designer Jeremy Herbert develop Williams’ emphasis on the theatrical with crystal clarity.
With a curtain that goes down as well as up and musicians integrated into the action, the workings of the story are exposed to all, entrancing us with its telling.
Not that this illusion is really all that pleasant. Our narrator Tom relates the tale of his escape from home but never disguises the fact that he is abandoning his mother and sister. Leo Bill plays this unsympathetic character, who haunted from the start. It is a surprisingly physical portrayal with a palpable sense of anger and despair.
The urgency of Tom’s leaving is well established by Deborah Findlay and Sinead Matthews in the roles of his mother Amanda and sister Laura. The danger of their self-illusion is subtly conveyed and is all the more powerful for the way it creeps up on you.
Even in Williams’ day, the chivalry of the South was a thing of the past. Nowadays, Amanda’s delusions and Laura’s timidity can seem not just deluded but silly. Findlay does well to establish her character’s ideas without alienating the audience. This is a lesson Matthews has chosen to ignore. Some actresses play Laura with a stubbornness about her fantasy life that is missing here. But, in neglecting this, Matthews is all the more moving and as fragile as the glass animals she collects.
The play’s fourth character, Jim the gentleman caller, is “an emissary from the world of reality” and arrives through a door marked with a star. Kyle Soller gives an excellent performance, fitting Tom’s description of him perfectly and adding a sincerity that cannot fail to move. He becomes central to Hill-Gibbins’ sensitive direction of this masterpiece and in bringing emotion to the fore leaves us as haunted as the characters left abandoned in their fantasy world.
Until 15 January 2011
Photo by Simon Annand
Written 22 November 2010 for The London Magazine