THE GLASS MENAGERIE
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Friday 30th September, 2011
Tennessee Williams’s classic play is given a light touch in this production at the superlative New Vic. Guest director, Sarah Punshon, allows the humour within the piece to come through without denying any of the characters their intensity. The symbolism, which can be heavy-handed in these plays, is also allowed to unfold – the significance of disabled Laura’s collection of glass animals becomes crystal clear: this is her private world, what she has been reduced to. She cleans the tiny figures and imagines lives for them, having retreated from the world outside the apartment. The fire escape looming large in Michael Holt’s set design offers escape but Laura seems unable to approach it without stumbling.
The portrayal of Laura by Katie Moore is excellent. However frustrated the other characters get with her most annoying traits, the audience can only feel sympathy for the poor creature, her confidence shattered, her hopes chipped and scratched. Gentleman caller Jim, played with irresistible charm by Harry Livingstone, recognises Laura needs delicate handling. He boosts her self-esteem to the point of getting her to dance around the flat with him – all the more crushing then is his revelation he is engaged to be married.
Laura’s mother Amanda is not without delusion. Obsessed by nostalgia for her former life in the Deep South, she hankers for the days when gentleman callers were queuing up to see her and slaves answered her every beck and call. Cracks have appeared in this protective layer of happy memories as Amanda realises she needs to get Laura married off if the two women are to be looked after. Louise Bangay plays Amanda with verve and intensity. The Southern US accents are spot on but there is the odd instance when Amanda’s exuberance gets the better of her diction and the sense of some lines is lost completely. This could be due to first night nerves, I suppose; but the cast need not fear. This is a splendid production, always engaging and entertaining.
James Joyce (not THAT one) holds the play together as son/brother/narrator Tom. He has a nice line in sardonic delivery and a glint in his eye that suggests his constant retreat to the movies has more going on than he discloses. Williams was to explore and develop this theme in his darker works but this production is a well-crafted beauty, with glints of brilliance as we dust off the delusions that coat these interesting figures.