first night

The Glass Menagerie

Caitlin McEwan kicks off this years reviewing with Thrust Stage's production of The Glass Menagerie


Matt Dann clearly has a way with the work of Tennessee Williams. After the success of last year’s multi D’Oscar winning A Streetcar Named Desire, he now tackles what is arguably the writer’s first great play, The Glass Menagerie. I am happy to report that he pulls it off completely, creating a bewitching piece of drama that is both magical and melancholy.
If you want an uplifting, life-affirming night at the theatre, then The Glass Menagerie is probably not for you. It is the story of the dysfunctional Wingfield family: faded Southern Belle Amanda, her shy, disabled daughter Laura and her angry, aspiring writer son Tom. Their father, a telephone salesman ‘who fell in love with long distance’ never appears but is an ever-looming presence in a portrait on the back wall, right above the family dinner table. The action is retrospective, with Tom narrating the events directly to the audience. One day Amanda asks Tom to bring home a gentleman caller for his sister. He obliges, bringing Jim, a friend from work. I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s not exactly a happy ending. If we compared the play to a Taylor Swift song, it’s less Love Story and more Teardrops on My Guitar.
The cast of four performs strongly throughout. Hebe Beardsall as Laura is truly fragile, down to her thin, high voice which manages to carry to the back of the Assembly Rooms whilst still maintaining a delicate quality. It is easy to make Laura insufferable, but Beardsall presents the audience with a girl trapped by her disability and completely smothered by her overbearing mother Amanda, played deftly by Georgie Franklin. Franklin’s Southern drawl is flawless and she manages to pull off the difficult feat of playing a character far older than herself. Her ‘gentlemen caller’ speech is particularly well executed, and throughout the play she really seems to be a woman living in the past.
The boys are equally good. Michael Forde as Jim, the gentleman caller, is unpleasantly arrogant, reeling off his list of high school achievements, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he is clearly past his peak. Joe Skelton gives a dreamy performance as Tom, the consummate illusionist who would rather deal in fantasy than reality. He shuffles onto the stage, head ensconced by a black beanie hat, and often takes lengthy pauses in his speeches to light another cigarette, before telling us ‘I have tricks in my pocket’. We believe him completely.
These ‘tricks’ come to life in Dan Gosselin’s lighting design, which is nothing short of incredible. It reinforces the key concept of the play as a hazy and poetic remembrance - almost a figment of Tom’s imagination - and the stage is dimly lit in blue light throughout. Gosselin really has created Tom’s world of illusion, and enhanced by ‘the pianist in the pit’, Robert Green, who underscores many of the scenes, it is easy to fall under the production’s spell.
The Glass Menagerie is a great production, kicking off what I am sure will be a brilliant year of Durham Student Theatre. It is not an uplifting piece, but it is a truly poetic one, and Williams’ magnificent script is well matched by competent actors and a wonderful set and lighting design. As with all first nights, there were a few teething problems but I have no doubt that the show will develop into an excellent piece of work that is truly deserving of a large audience.

11 October 2013

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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