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The Glass Menagerie

Tennessee Williams
New Vic Theatre and Oldham Coliseum Theatre co-production
Coliseum Theatre, Oldham
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Director Sarah Punshon returns to the Coliseum for a co-production with the New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme, where it was performed first, of the Tennessee Williams classic play The Glass Menagerie.

Williams gets his character Tom—a thinly-disguised version of himself as an aspiring young writer in the deep south in the 1930s looking for a way out—to introduce the piece as a memory play and to expose upfront the theatrical trickery that will be used. Tom's mother Amanda, whose husband deserted the family some years ago, likes to tell stories of how popular she used to be with the boys when she was younger and how much better she could have done if she'd married someone else.

Tom's sister Laura has a limp, but her acute shyness is a much greater disability that caused her to drop out of school and business school. Amanda persuades Tom to bring a colleague from the warehouse where he works to meet Laura, hoping to secure her future with a husband if she can't hold down a job.

The production begins with a slightly fumbled magic trick with some flash paper, but the first act fails to fizz again as the characters do not wholly convince and the pace all feels rather flat. The production only really comes to life when "gentleman caller" Jim arrives; just as Jim awakens new life and possibilities in Laura, the actor behind the character of Jim, Harry Livingstone—by far the most naturally-played character on stage—seems to bring the best out of his fellow actors and lifts every scene he is in.

James Joyce as narrator Tom gets across some aspects of the character well but misses on some of the subtleties. Katie Moore is appealing as Laura but makes her a very mannered character with lots of arm waving and twitching when she speaks. Louise Bangay as Amanda has many good moments, especially when she is entertaining her guest and embarrassing her children.

Michael Holt's design mostly consists mostly of scattered, low furniture, betraying the production's beginnings in the New Vic's theatre-in-the-round, apart from the skeletal fire escape staircase at the back, which all works perfectly well against the plain, black backdrop. The projections of blue roses and other flowers are a rather cheesy and unnecessary distraction, however.

It certainly isn't a terrible production as there are some entertaining moments and the storytelling is clear right the way through, but there is a lack of attention to detail in pace, characterisation and the many subtleties of performance that can really bring Williams alive, which means that the production never comes together consistently.

"The Glass Menagerie" runs until 5th November

Steve Orme reviewed this production at the New Vic, Necastle-under-Lyme

Reviewer: David Chadderton