The Glass Menagerie

Tue 8th – Sat 12th November 2011

reviews

Daniela Franceschinelli

at 08:21 on 9th Nov 2011

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We are taking a look into a glass menagerie, seated with Tom outside the windows of what used to be his home. Everything is fragile and as perfectly balanced as glass.

The Corpus Playroom seems perfect to stage this play with its intimate architecture. The set is a simple living room: a table with four chairs, a couch, a glass, Mr. Wingfield's photo on the wall, a gramophone and the so called “glass menagerie”. Music from the 30s is heard. Tom (Mateo Oxley) is seated in the audience, he is both part of his memory and part of the audience. He was outside then as he is now, he has escaped.

From the very beginning of the play, Tom stands out. His performance is intense, with tones of pathos, rage and sadness. He has all the strength of his dreams and broken desires in his voice. Amanda (Victoria Ball), counterbalanced this with a more light-hearted interpretation of his mother's character. Almost singing, Amanda grabs the audience's attention with her lines pronounced with an accent which added musicality to the play. The little Laura (Laura Batey) is as fragile as her glass collection. Laura's performance was absolutely perfect, with the right dose of insecurity and shyness.

When Jim (Will Karani) arrives for dinner, he's immediately branded as the outsider; “I'm not made of glass,” he says. He doesn't know how to manage glass, but still he's the only one who doesn't regard Laura as the poor cripple girl. The scene when Jim and Laura dance is formidably directed, light is softened, the music's volume slowly increased and we are there to see the break of the unicorn and the break of all Laura's dreams and illusions. We're watching the real glass menagerie falling apart on the stage. In fact, as Laura says; "glass breaks so easily". Glass becomes an integral metaphor in the performance - when Tom breaks a glass before going away from home, the audience is clearly shown him breaking bonds. Broken glass is sharp and can also cut, the only way is to change is to escape from that suffocating reality.

For one hour and a half the audience is completely inside this family and its strangeness. Something is wrong, but still it is fascinating, this frailty is what makes it so appealing and charming.

The Glass Menagerie is outstanding and magisterially directed and acted, every detail is perfectly refined. Absolutely the best play I have seen in Cambridge.

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Husein Meghji

at 16:36 on 11th Nov 2011

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The Glass Menagerie cuts through the most tedious elements of Williams’ play (the expressionistic staging and symbols which modern audiences find difficult to palate), and focuses on its strengths: the emotion and the humour.

Both these elements are embodied by the character of Amanda (played by Victoria Ball), a mother abandoned by her husband, left to raise her children in the financial difficulties of 1930s America. Despite her verbosity, which resounds with false cheeriness, she finds herself constantly drawn to painfully reminiscing on a past that memory has contorted and idealised. She tries to drown out her regrets by pouring her energies into securing her childrens’ future. This manifests itself in an excessive fastidiousness towards them which is both comic and infuriating, for example in the first scene, when she incessantly corrects Tom’s eating manners, elaborating at length on the importance of chewing, seemingly oblivious to the fact that her son is a grown man, whose patience is wearing ever thinner as she rambles on. Victoria Ball’s bright Southern American accent is perfect for the character; this and her frequent recourse to sing-song expressions (most memorably, ‘Rise and shine!’) make her interpretation of Amanda exquisitely infuriating. In the second part of the play, her flirtatious twists and turns and over-exuberance are equally convincing and amusing, as Amanda assumes the role of hostess to their ‘gentleman caller’.

This ‘gentleman caller’ embodies the family’s hope for the future; Amanda is determined that her daughter, Laura, a shy “cripple” loosely based on Williams’ own mentally disabled sister, marry a respectable man, thus ensuring her future happiness and financial security. Laura Batey superbly incarnates the delicate creature that is Laura, who, in the first part of the play, remains quiet, eyes downcast, and is subject to bouts of jittery nerves. The transformation that she slowly undergoes in the presence of Jim O’Connor (Will Karani), whom she has idealised since her childhood, is one of the most touching parts of the performance. Laura’s naiveity is utterly adorable, and when she finally meets Jim’s gaze and allows herself to smile and laugh, she indeed seemed to possess the strange beauty that makes an impression on him. Karani is convincing as O’Connor, who genuinely seems to fall for Laura, despite being unable to commit. Our initial bemused aversion to his attire - excessively formal - and his manner - excessively polite – is transformed into sympathy when he is left alone with Laura, whom he succeeds in coaxing out of her shell with the simple friendliness than neither her mother or brother offer.

Tom is less likeable, through not the fault of actor Mateo Oxley, for Williams’ character is irredeemably cowardly and pathetic. Frustrated, disillusioned, demotivated and escapist, Tom resembles a man much younger than he is. Indeed, he is at times like a moody teenager, who emerges from his gloomy shell only periodically, in order to throw a tantrum. His tirades are eloquent, even lyrical, yet they are ultimately defeatist, and when he follows in the footsteps on his father and ups and leaves, we can hardly sympathise.

The Glass Menagerie is characterised by extremely strong performances from its four-man cast. Emotionally tumultuous, with streaks of tragedy, the actors still manage to inject a lot of humour into the production, making this an extremely watchable version of Williams’ autobiographical play, which ends all too quickly.

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