The Glass Menagerie is the play that launched Tennessee Williams’ career, making him a playwrighting star, it’s fitting then that this latest revival, at the Duke of York’s Theatre comes with actual star power, in the form of Golden Globe winning, six time Academy Award Nominee Amy Adams. Add in the directing talents of Jeremy Herrin and you’d be forgiven for thinking what could possibly go wrong?
This semi-autobiographical work is always billed as a memory-play, our narrator (Paul Hilton) tells us so in the opening monologue and cautions the audience that not everything we see actually happened. Hilton plays the older Tom Wingfield, with the younger version playing a pivotal role in the main thrust of the action.
In a rundown apartment in St. Louis, Amanda Wingfield remembers better days in the Deep South, when the family had servants and she was inundated with ‘gentleman callers’. Times have changed, her husband has run off, and son Tom works in a local factory to help make ends meet.
Amanda is most concerned about her daughter; painfully shy Laura has already dropped out of school and secretarial college, spending her days alone polishing her collection of glass figurines. Laura’s bashfulness is not helped by the limp she’s been left with following an illness, and Amanda encourages Tom to bring a friend, Jim O’Connor, home as a Gentleman Caller for Laura.
Unsurprisingly, Amy Adams delivers a strong performance in the role, but there’s definitely a sense she’s been mis-cast. In this production there’s no real hint of Amanda being a faded and embittered former beauty, and Adams struggles to convince us that this is an overpowering matriarch, a construct so very crucial to the plot.
Tom Glynn-Carney is suitably angst-ridden as the younger Tom, the sense of his claustrophobia is palpable as is the love he feels for his sister. Lizzie Annis makes a stunning professional stage debut, perfectly capturing the total anxiety felt by the character, and the scenes between Annis and Victor Alli, as the Gentleman Caller Jim O’Connor, are the most impressive of the night.
If anyone saw John Tiffany’s beautifully magical production of the play in the very same theatre in 2017, they’ll be disappointed to find Herrin’s production seems to have done its upmost to be different. The rather odd staging looks as if the entire rehearsal room has been lifted directly on to the Duke of York’s stage, a mess of clutter on the periphery with a black box on which the actors perform.
The only piece of ‘scenery’ that gives any indication that you’re watching The Glass Menagerie, is the cabinet housing Laura’s collection of figurines. The cabinet feels disproportionately large, overbearing and threatens to become the star of the show itself. Above the stage a large screen displays film noir type projections, if you’re lucky you might just make out a fire escape (when the characters are supposed to be on a fire escape) otherwise it appears to serve no useful purpose.
‘Memory takes a lot of poetic license’ said Tennesee Williams, but that seems to have led to some pretty odd staging decisions; it’s set over two time periods, but it never seems to establish what those are, music and costumes never seem to fit, so when Amanda appears in the gown she wore as a teenager it doesn’t have the effect it’s supposed to have.
All in all, the impressive cast outshine this bland revival. Where previous productions of The Glass Menagerie have created a sense of magic and wonderment, this one seems to be relying on its star casting, and perhaps that’s the answer to where it has, in part, gone wrong.