The Glass Menagerie
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 9 Feb
For all its insight into character and human emotion, Tennessee Williams’ earliest hit is perhaps the least of his major plays, with the excesses of sentiment in the text too often threatening to overwhelm the drama itself. For all that, there’s a profound conversation about time, personal history and the scars left by those closest to us which Jemima Levick’s production explores very effectively.
From the outset, young Tom Wingfield’s (Joseph Arkley) recollections of the impoverished St Louis family from whom he’s estranged are inscribed with history. His mother Amanda (Barbara Marten), the first of Williams’ faded Southern Belles living in straitened circumstances in depression America, thrives only in the recollection of a gilded youth and the husband who abandoned her, while reclusive, mildly disabled sister Laura (Nicola Harrison) has failed to outlive the agonies of self-consciousness and shyness imposed on her at high school. It is with dark foreboding that we watch the arrival of a gentleman caller (Antony Eden), a potential beau for Laura who brings Tom’s disaffection with his family to a crisis.
In front of Jessica Brettle’s seamy decrepit apartment set, Levick’s production curbs the potential vulgarity of the play’s mawkishness with some surprising moments of humour, much of which emerges from the pure grotesquery of the characters. Thus, the shock of Amanda’s appearance in an ancient yellow debutant dress from her girlhood is shot through less with pathos than bathos. All the same, while this production lends new insights and humour to a well thumbed text, thus succeeding on its own terms, one wonders whether in sacrificing some of its deeper emotional subtexts, the piece becomes peculiarly muted in its examination of love and its loss. For all that, there are four strong performances to enjoy with Eden’s bombastic, but ultimately insecure former high school hero and Harrison’s fragile daughter particular highlights.