Review: The Glass Menagerie, Duke of York Theatre

During my bewildered days at University, where the heavy ‘Understanding Literature’ gathered dust on my shelf, it was difficult to feel inspired by poetry I couldn’t decipher.

It takes a mature mind to digest and appreciate poetry and when your main priority at the time is which bar sells the cheapest jägerbombs, it can be hard to concentrate.

Ambitious to keep up with what appeared to be my more cultured peers I decided one evening, to peel open the neglected pages of the book, and I came across a familiar name – Tennessee Williams. At last! A writer I’d heard of! After studying A Street Car named Desire in what felt so far away from my halls, during sixth form, it was comforting to remember why I chose to study English.

The Glass Menagerie struck a chord with me. The intensity, yet simplicity of the play whisked me away to exactly where Williams intended to take his audience, on the fine line bordering realism and escapism. Not only that, but my emotions also ebbed and flowed, with the relatability of his characters leaving me with a queasy sadness.

Four years later, strolling through London with a friend and a poster caught my eye. The play was being shown at the Duke of York Theatre. . Last night I went to see John Tiffany’s production and it stirred up the same emotions experienced in my university bedroom.

Whilst I wouldn’t advise drinking red wine when watching the play (it was intense and you need to concentrate) it was a lovely evening. We sat on the third balcony tier, which was an okay view, but if you slumped/relaxed too much in your seat you’d miss the characters heads if they went to the front of the stage.

The set was simple, a table and chairs, a sofa, the entrance to the small St Louis apartment and of course, a miniature the glass menagerie. Shallow water encompassed the stage, adding to the illusion of it being a memory play.

Narrator and protagonist Tom, played by Michael Esper was more bold than I expected. Not to be too critical, but I didn’t find his Southern American accent convincing. Perhaps that was because it was incomparable next to Cherry Jones – born and bred in Tennessee – who played the Mother, Amanda Wingfield. She had a rawness to both her voice and character, but also glimpses into her vulnerability softened her slightly  before she sharply snapped out of her momentary state of pity. Tasked with holding enough strength for both her and Laura, you can’t help but feel a sadness for Amanda, wishing she had a chance to go back in time, before the perils of motherhood.

Kate O’Flynn played Laura, with all of the quirks but a demure beauty I didn’t first associate with her when reading the play. She captured her shaking voice, nervous disposition and general awkwardness with a childlike yet goofy appeal, luring the audience into a false sense of optimism. Brian J. Smith as Jim, the ‘Gentleman Caller’ was graceful and kind, and his scene with Laura where they reminisced on the living room floor, was described by my boyfriend, like watching real people have a real conversation.

Overall, I’d say that if you enjoyed reading the play it’s worth going to watch it, and even if you haven’t, you can’t really go wrong for its modest price. It’s also a play that leaves you with a bittersweet feeling – with all of the choices we can make, places we can go and fantasies we can escape in, there are just some things that we can’t abandon from our memories.

Image courtesy of Official London Theatre.


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