Review of ‘The Glass Menagerie’: “The unmatching pieces of a working puzzle”

Tennessee Williams’ groundbreaking story about the pain and sorrow of a dysfunctional family relives through this new West End production – playing for a strictly limited season until the end of the month. Guillermo Názara reviews this one-of-a-kind version starring 6-time Academy Award nominated Amy Adams, where the fragility of its characters is also the force spurring their runaway from misery.

Burning as the Southern sun, so can the steel chains of silent grief melt your soul away. The piercing truth that Tennessee Williams achingly penned 80 years ago (an exorcism for the personal soreness from he would never heal) still mutters, cool and firm, to the ears of those concealing a scarred spirit – in some strange way, stirring their bitterness while at the same time providing the comforting reassurement of feeling understood. Society may change, but it’s only that superficial façade of our relations that actually shifts, as the deep passions that move our hearts (love, hatred, envy, admiration and dependence) persist indelibly in our genetic makeup, dictating the decisions our reason will never control.

The Glass Menagerie has always excelled at pouring out such a harsh reality. Nurtured within the spiky arms of a bleak past, the sincerity of the piece stems from the paradoxical (yet unavoidable necessary and factual) complexity of its simple characters. There are no good or bad guys in this story, there’s only people trying to cope, trying to survive, trying to live. Setting a precedent in the subgenre of ‘plastic theatre’ (a term coined by Williams himself), the play masterfully succeeds at achieving an ultimate artistic goal: creating an aesthetic depiction out of the ugly pictures of human existence. Set in the Midwestern city of St. Louis, the text is a biographical reminiscence of a difficult unfulfilled youth through the distressing eyes of maturity.

Credit: Johan Persson

Directed by Jeremy Herrin, this version offers a new psychological exploration of the American classic, thanks to the bright decision of splitting the main part (Tom Wingfield) into two different portrayals: the withered though wise narrator and the discontented lad desperately struggling to escape from the distortion of a life he didn’t ask for. This brilliant duality is heightened through clever blocking – where the wilted raconteur quietly lurks into some of the scenes without tampering with the action, as if walking through the pages of an unclosed episode in an awestruck mix of nostalgia and frustration, but also as if he was a fallen guardian angel.

Amy Adams, in the role of Amanda Wingfield, heads both the bill and her fictional family (at least, her character attempts to) in a convincing portrayal of a manipulative matriarc banking on pity and victimism to accomplish what she yearns for – this, however, being noble in nature. It’s exactly this half-pretended, half-sustained frailty that Adams is capable of bringing out almost impeccably, making Amanda’s smothering personality likeable and sympathetic. However, it’s the male lead duo that stands on this review’s spotlight, since both Tom Glynn-Carney (as the budding protagonist) and Paul Hilton (as his older self) excel at exhibiting the melancholic burden of a never-ending battle – the kind that dooms you when it’s happening and haunts you when it’s passed.

Credit: Johan Persson

Despite the cast change, the production remains faithful to the original material – this trait easily appreciated in the set design. Presenting us with a gloomy ramshackled house cluttered with junk and lamps on the sides, creating the uneasy ambience of an interrogation room, the scenery also uses a black screen located on the top to project images emulating the characters’ emotions and ambitions. Apparently an idea vaguely suggested by Williams while creating both this work and the new genre it would belong to, this may be the montage’s only flaw, since though it’s true that it’s only an enhacement mechanism (thank God for ACTUAL sets), it also feels quite unnecessary.

A much enjoyable ride that, albeit tragic, is able to poke a good bunch of laughs, Herrin’s take on The Glass Menagerie manages to victoriously make a difference while still being respectful to its source. With only three weeks left until its limited run comes to an end, there’s really no excuse to miss on an opportunity that, for many reasons, feels (and truly is) unique. For a mirror of life is always a good place to look at yourself in.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Glass Menagerie plays at the Duke of York’s Theatre from Monday to Saturday. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Názara

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