The Glass Menagerie (4 stars)

Jemima Levick directs impeccable new adaptation of Tennessee Williams' 'memory play' for Dundee Rep

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The Glass Menagerie

Photo: Viktoria Begg

In the opening soliloquy of Tennessee Williams’ much lauded ‘memory play’, our narrator describes the ‘gentleman caller’ we will encounter in Act Two. He is, says Tom, ‘the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for’.

The hope which drips from that sentence seeps into the opening scene and beyond, not just for Tom and his family, but for the audience. Those unfamiliar with the play’s outcome will lay as much potential in the caller’s lap as Tom’s mother and sister do, while those painfully aware that happiness forever lies round an unturned corner for these two women will hold an expectation of a different kind.

Having spent an hour in the company of Tom, his kind by suffocating mother, Amanda, and mentally and physically fragile sister, Laura, letting a stranger through the door is (for both them and us) an exciting but trepidatious prospect, especially in this new version from Dundee Rep, where Irene Macdougall (Amanda), Millie Turner (Laura) and Robbie Jack (Tom) are already doing such a good job of keeping us emotionally engaged in their claustrophobic life. But when Thomas Cotran sweeps through the door as Jim O’Connor, a heady mix of confidence and astute empathy, we can all sit back and relax. Laura, because she thinks, tragically, that her ‘long-delayed’ beau has finally arrived – and us, because Cotran’s characterisation and delivery is sheer perfection.

Seventy years after Williams wrote his semi-autobiographical play, the craftsmanship of his words still has the power to astonish. The lines, as worthy of savouring in the mouth as haute cuisine, demand – and receive in this instance – careful attention. Robbie Jack’s microphoned narration bookends the piece beautifully, and throughout he evokes the desperate longing that both fuels him and the female millstones around his neck.

Macdougall ensures Amanda’s good intentions come across as just that – a mother’s desire for her children to do well and thrive, rather than the one-dimensional self-interested former socialite she could so easily be played as. Turner’s delicate, overwhelmed-by-life Laura is heartbreaking when the glimmer of hope (aka O’Conner) lights up her face with ultimately futile potential.

Director Jemima Levick has strived to put a fresh gloss on a decades-old drama, but there’s really no need. The addition of occasional dance-like movement might add to the suggestion that this is indeed a ‘memory play’ (and memories often come hazily and without words) but Williams’ text is rich in symbolism enough without added extras.

Dundee Rep, until Sat 20 Sep.

The Glass Menagerie Trailer

The Glass Menagerie

Tennessee Williams' delicate story of family loyalty and loss.

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