Tennessee Williams seminal play, The Glass Menagerie, has opened for a West End run at the Duke of York’s Theatre. Based loosely on Tennessee Williams own family and life, this semi-autobiographical work is a ‘memory play’, that is, it is based on his memories but isn’t entirely accurate.
Tom is frustrated by his life which consists of a dead end job to support his overpowering mother, Amanda, and chronically shy and crippled sister, Laura. Preferring to look after her collection of glass animals, Laura has nothing else to occupy her life. In desperation to see her daughter married off, Amanda convinces Tom to invite a work colleague, The Gentleman Caller, home for supper.
Both Michael Esper as Tom, and Brian J. Smith as the Gentleman Caller, give dazzling performances, their familiarity allows you to grasp the measure of each character quickly.
But it is the female leads who steal the show. Cherry Jones is sublime as Amanda, her long Southern drawl and loquacious personality hypnotizing to watch. Kate O’Flynn plays Laura to perfection, the limp delightfully understated and her voice gently cracking under the weight of her characters overpowering shyness.
The Glass Menagerie has been beautifully directed by John Tiffany and the staging is divine, two hexagonal structures sit atop an infinite loop of black glass which reflect the actors on stage. Those actors move across the stage with delicate flowing movements choreographed by Steven Hoggett. A fire escape towers high above the actors, symbolizing how each of the characters feel trapped, in their own way, and have a desire to escape the life they lead. Music is used sparingly by Nico Muhly, but it is so subtly impactful as each note tinkles and chimes like the clinking of Laura’s glass animals. Most surprising are the little glimpses of illusion peppered throughout.
In his opening monologue, Tom says that the stage magician “gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth” and this production of The Glass Menagerie is truly magical, in so many ways. Each performance, movement and note fits together to conjure up a bygone era of characters trapped in their own living room and confined by their own regrets.
John Tiffany has achieved some kind of sublime alchemy, because this is one of the most delicately beautiful productions to hit the West End in a long time.