The Glass Menagerie
Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue
Review by Philip Fisher
There is far more to Rupert Goold's brilliant, dreamy production of The Glass Menagerie than the performance of Hollywood star, Jessica Lange. That is not to denigrate the leading lady who has already wowed London playing another Tennessee Williams' heroine, Blanche Dubois with Toby Stephens and Imogen Stubbs in Sir Peter Hall's A Streetcar Named Desire ten years ago. It is just that almost everything about this entrancing 140 minutes is right.
The staging of this play about truth and memory is well worth a mention. The action takes place in the 1930s, in and just outside the St Louis home of the Wingfields, a mother and her two children in their twenties, father having run off long ago.
Designer Matthew Wright has constructed a set that literally puts the drab apartment into a dowdy picture frame but makes much of a long metal fire escape for both entrances and exits.
In the pivotal scene towards the end, the electricity having been cut off, light is provided by candles and the efforts of lighting designer, Paul Pyant, which adds immensely to the atmosphere. He also uses the novelty of a circle of spotlights shining around rather than on the apartment to great effect.
The scene is set in post-modern style by Ed Stoppard playing the smouldering, narrator/performer Tom Wingfield, a typical Williams' character who likes his booze, has a love-hate relationship with his mother and dreams of escape to far-off lands.
Tom is a poet who is destined to fail in business, while his sister Laura, played beautifully by Amanda Hale, is painfully shy and lives for little more than the pleasure of staring at her menagerie full of delicate glass animals, with pride of place given to a symbolic Centaur.
Miss Lange's Amanda Wingfield is a disappointed woman but also an optimist, whom one might as easily call delusional. This maddening mother spends much of her time recalling the days when she was the southern belle that all of the boys dreamed of dating. Her choice of husband was unfortunate but despite a life of failure, she still has hopes of living vicariously through the commercial and romantic successes of her children.
As the family slide into penurious depression begins to seem inexorable, hope arrives in the form of The Gentleman Caller, otherwise known as Jim O'Connor. Mark Umbers plays a dashing young man who was once the school hero and still has hopes of a glittering future.
He charms and, in the nicest sense, seduces the mother, by now wearing the butterfly ballgown that attracted so many men in her youth. In the romantic pale candlelight, he then does likewise with her daughter and, despite letting her down so badly at the end of what is thus rendered an ineffably sad evening, appears to have released the crippled girl from the low self-esteem that was blighting her life.
All four actors and the whole of the backstage team are to be congratulated on creating a really atmospheric production that is so intimate that it leaves one feeling like a voyeuristic visitor to the Wingfield apartment. Miss Lange may find herself on some awards lists come the end of the year but it will be a travesty if she is not joined there by several of her colleagues. It goes without saying that this one is strongly recommended.