The Glass Menagerie
by Tennessee Williams
Octagon Theatre, Bolton
27 March – 20 April 2013
Reviewed by Debbie Tasker
The Glass Menagerie was Williams' first hit play, premiering in Chicago in 1944. It's autobiographical, and tells the story of Tom Wingfield (the character who represents Williams) and the portrait of this family in crisis.
The play is narrated by one of its principal characters, Tom Wingfield (Nathan Wiley), who works at a shoe warehouse, but secretly wants to be a poet. He lives with his mother and his sister, Laura; he is the man of the house because his father left them with nothing. Tom's mother (Margot Leicester) is obsessed with the rituals and the values of her Southern upbringing. She desperately wants her daughter to be a Southern belle as she remembers from her own past; instead, she is desperately disappointed. Laura (Fiona Hampton) is crippled by her timidity. With her crippled leg, she is not interested in leaving the house. She whiles away her time at home with her menagerie of glass animals-fragments that are her only pride and joy.
The set, designed by Ciaran Bagnall, includes the clattering staircase and the building which Williams describes in such detail in the stage directions.
Margot Leicester as Amanda Wingfield had a very sympathetic and outstanding performance, Amanda with her Southern charm and girlish reverie of admirers past, self-centred mother protesting concern for her inhibited daughters future while locked in the absorption of her lost youth.
Stifled by his family, Tom drinks. Then, following the example set by his father, he plans to join the merchant navy. He wants to see adventure and gain experience, so that he can write. Nathan reveals his character through the simplest looks, gestures and movements. He's the picture of the sensitive soul simmering with secrets as he becomes increasingly conflicted by desire, dreams and duty. He also brings a gentle humour as a son who has navigated familial oppression and submission with a survivalist's wit and resignation until he flees and becomes one of the fugitive kind.
There were touches which made this production different – a fantasy dance between a young Amanda and her young husband who had left the family many years before and the tinkling music which emphasised the fragility not just of the glass figures but of the relationships in the play. The part of Laura was hauntingly played by Fiona Hampton, and the scene between her and the gentleman caller (played by Kieran Hill) was the highlight of the production – it was beautifully staged with candles on the floor and was totally engaging, joyful in the moments when they danced and at the same time heart-breaking knowing what was to come.
Overall I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening and am glad I had this opportunity to watch this exquisitely honed memory play which is both funny and emotional.
Tickets cost from £9.50 to £23.50
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