Tennessee Williams’ ‘The Glass Menagerie’ focuses on the lives of the Wingfields, and the effect of abandonment on a family. It is the strong autobiographical elements, shown through a concoction of memories, which allow Williams to capture the reality of family life and hit on themes that the audience can’t help but find familiar.
The Wingfields’ father’s picture looms over the stage and the play. The heartbreak of his abandonment is like a deep crack in the dining room table, covered by a thin white cloth. The play bounces between cherished moments of kindness to screaming matches, reflecting how our memories try to explore the complexities of family relationships. The best and the worst parts of a person are never so clearly visible than to their family.
The actors were at ease on set despite the freezing temperatures of the Bedlam Theatre. They made the stage their home. Bryan Alexander McNamara was a strong choice for Tom. He ensured Tom’s love and protective nature for his sister was at the heart of the character, instead of his anger. McNamara captured Tom’s turmoil and avoided making him the brute. The aside monologues, however, were not as captivating as they should have been and felt emotionally detached. The gentleman caller Jim, played by Tom Whiston, was charming and charismatic. His overconfidence and mansplaining had the audience vocally groaning and laughing.
I must say, however, that it was the women who really stole the limelight. It’s a big challenge to generate sympathy for a self-pitying character like Laura, but Elise Coward had us perched on the edges on our seats, willing her to succeed. Her disability was not very pronounced: instead it was more of a mental block, perhaps severe anxiety. She walked on eggshells and talked like a loud noise would shatter the air around her. Her crippling shyness was sincere and almost child-like, urging the audience to feel for her, and not just pity her. Evangeline Edwards truly dominated the space as the overbearing Amanda. The character had a real dramatic flair that Edwards never shied away from, making the audience love her, hate her, and sympathise with her in equal measure. I particularly enjoyed her insincere phone calls, complete with a perfected fake laugh.
Set additions to the play included projection screens. They reflected the characters’ inner memories. As their eyes glazed over and the images of yesteryear passed over their eye-line, the screens allowed them to also pass over our own. This was a very effective tool, ensuring the theme of memory was very central to the play.
Piano interludes were a great addition and almost necessary as Tom tells us; ‘In memory, everything seems to happen to music.’ However, disappointingly, the timings were off on multiple occasions, including the sound cues. Unnecessarily expensive, delicate props like cigarettes and glass candles only made the actor’s lives difficult. They were driven to perform an elaborate balancing act whilst carrying the show. To their credit, they did so beautifully, without breaking character, and I applaud them for that. It simply became distracting and frustrating to watch, taking away from the play for a very small gain in aesthetic.
This play made me fall in love with Tennessee Williams all over again. His work doesn’t need flair or fancy props and wardrobe, just a solid cast who can bring his words to life. And this cast definitely nailed it.