City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The Glass Menagerie Review 2

By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 15 January 2008

Show Details
Royal Lyceum Company
Jemima Levick (director), Jessica Brettle (designer), Chris Davey (Lighting), Philip Pinsky (composer)
Joseph Arkley (Tom), Barbara Marten (Amanda), Nicola Harrison (Laura), Antony Eden (Jim)
Running time: 

The American playwright, Tennessee Williams is renowned for his compassionate and graceful observations on family life. What makes his plays so poignant and truthful is the fact that he wrote from the heart, with stories and situations taken from his own experience. As a child he suffered paralysis in the leg, had a difficult distant relationship with his father, while his beloved sister Rose was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age.

Turning autobiography into art, many of his plays centre around young men and women suffering from social isolation or mental breakdown. "The Glass Menagerie" (1944) is set in St. Louis and narrated through the reminiscences of Tom Wingfield, a rebellious young man and lost soul who feels trapped and alone living with his domineering mother, Amanda, and his disabled sister Laura.

The setting is the family home, the parlour and dining room of a small shabby apartment with a fire escape leading down to the street. In a prologue, neatly portrayed with a blend of outer calm and inner despair by Joseph Arkley, Tom sets the scene of this memory play which, he explains, features unrealistic qualities through music and lighting. He introduces his family, including his absent father who worked for the telephone company and "fell in love with long distance."

Through short vignettes of their daily life - the evening meal, arguments, apologies, dreams and desires - we observe the disintegrated relationships of a dysfunctional family. Amanda, a former beautiful Southern Belle, takes out her anger at a failed marriage through her criticism of Tom, pushing him to work harder by day and stop drinking by night. He bitterly resents his dead-end warehouse job to support them all and longs to become a writer. His painfully shy sister Laura lives in her silent, private world amongst old gramophone records and her precious menagerie of tiny glass animals.

The only hope to secure Laura's future is if she finds a husband. Mother boasts of her 17 admirers as a young woman, but for Laura a gentleman caller is "long-delayed but always expected, something that we live for." Tom is instructed to bring a work colleague home for dinner. After the meal, Amanda and Tom purposely leave Laura alone in the parlour with Jim, the gentleman caller, whom she remembers from High School days.

Sitting in the dark with flickering candles, they share their love of music, personal disappointments and dreams. Antony Eden captures Jim's kind, charismatic nature with a quiet confidence, while Nicola Harrison captures Laura's blossoming transformation from timid, terrified little girl into a beautiful, sexually-aware young woman, with bittersweet, heartbreaking passion.

This finely choreographed climactic scene is spine-tingling stuff. Remembered for her previous gentle performance in Sylvia Plath's Three Women at the Arches, Glasgow a couple of years ago, Nicola Harrison again shows exceptional strength of character and dramatic precision.

Jemima Levick directs this intimate, poetic drama with a delicate artistic brush. The dimly lit scenes are almost monochrome in shade and texture, capturing the sharp quality of a black and white movie. The flowing filmic music score by Philip Pinksky (reminiscent of The Hours by Philip Glass) embellishes the romantic mood perfectly.

Apart from Barbara Marten's rather too brash and bold performance as Amanda, the only criticism is the abrupt ending which almost destroys the breathless tension of Jim and Laura's sweet brief encounter. A lingering pause, slower pace, lighting and music could perhaps signpost the final denouement more clearly. Overall, this classic play has been given a fresh revival to reveal its underlying themes of disappointment, expectation and escape with the right degree of pathos and humour.

The Glass Menagerie runs until 9 February, Tuesday to Saturday at 7.45pm. Matinees, 16, 19, 23, 26, 30 January, 2 February at 2.30pm.

Read Lindsay Corr's review of The Glass Menagerie