The Glass Menagerie
Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, Headlong and West Yorkshire Playhouse
The Glass Menagerie is acknowledged to be Tennessee Williams’s most autobiographical play. From frustrated writer forced to work in a menial job to dominating mother and unstable sister, The Glass Menagerie is an honest—sometimes brutally so—investigation into the dynamics that underpin ‘ordinary’ family life.
Struggling against harsh economic realities and children who will not or cannot conform to her ideals and aspirations, Amanda Wingfield is an oppressive, dominating matriarch who has known the finer things in life. Greta Scacchi infuses the role with an exquisite blend of tenacity and fragility. A woman who just wants the best for her children, to a contemporary audience Mrs Wingfield is at once familiar yet alien.
Tom Mothersdale’s portrayal of troubled son Tom is another highlight of this production. His interactions with Miss Scacchi threaten to set the stage alight. In many ways this problematical mother-son relationship is the most powerful strand in the play, symbolising as it does the eternal fight between progressivism and social conservatism.
Eric Kofi Abrefa (Jim O’Connor) and Erin Doherty (Laura Wingfield) play their roles admirably well. Doherty in particularly has the not inconsiderable challenge of portraying a young lady plagued by both physical and cognitive impairments. Abrefa’s happy-go-lucky college star turned shipping clerk is a literal—albeit fleeing—breathe of fresh air into what is a humdrum existence.
Staging is minimal, a fact which may be a consequence of expediency rather than design; this is, after all, a touring production. It just about works. It’s a sparseness though that certainly helps to symbolise both the material and spiritual emptiness of post-war Middle America.
As a dramatic construction, The Glass Menagerie is however not without its flaws. There is no denying that Williams knows a thing or two about drama, but at times it does feel like a game of two halves, with act one almost exclusively dedicated to Mrs Wingfield and Tom and the second half similarly dedicated to Laura and Jim.
Thus the characters of Mrs Wingfield and Tom somewhat dissipate in the second act. A pity, because one can’t help but feel that, had this strand been fully worked through, fireworks would surely have followed. Indeed poor Miss Scaatchi spends a great chunk of the second half sat down in the shadows stage right. Omniscience? Well, sort of.
Taut, tense and with humour that has worn surprisingly well, The Glass Menagerie is a play that deals with a range of issues that certainly resonate with a contemporary audience. Questions regarding duty, obligation and independence are just a few of themes explored in what would prove to be Williams’s professional breakthrough.
Ultimately though it’s Greta’s show. I mean it’s not every day one gets up close to acting aristocracy. Miss Scacchi’s performance is effortless, a masterclass of petulance tempered by sheer desperation, worth, as they often say, the admission cost alone.
Reviewer: David Sedgwick