Writer: Tennessee Williams
Director: David Thacker
Reviewer: Luke Walker
Tennessee Williams’ exquisite 1944 familial drama is an American classic and constantly produced in theatres up and down the land. And, judging by the Octagon Theatre’s production in Bolton, it is easy to see why.
Set in 1930s St Louis, faded southern belle and matriarch, Amanda Wingfield (Margot Leicester), lives in a tenement apartment block with her grown up children – Tom and Laura. Stifling them with over-protective love, Amanda has fallen on hard times ever since her husband and father to the children walked out 16 years ago leaving an enormous gap not only financially but emotionally. As an unseen fifth character in the play the designer (Ciaran Bagnall) has hung an enormous picture looming over the stage as a constant reminder.
Tom Wingfield (Nathan Wiley) has ambition and drive. He wants to see the world and live his life. However, he is stuck working in a warehouse in a job he hates to provide for the family. Laura Wingfield (Fiona Hampton), affected by her physical disability is painfully meek. Too shy to complete her studies after high school she spends her days listening to the phonograph and pouring over her collection of small, glass animals – her prized glass menagerie. When a potential suitor, The Gentleman Caller (Kieran Hill), is invited for dinner all of their problems could be solved.
The Glass Menagerie is often criticised for being too melodramatic. In places scenes can feel like a Vaseline lens smeared 1940s black and white film but the author in unapologetic about this. Williams uses one of the characters, Tom Wingfield, also as the narrator and ‘frames’ the play in the prologue – introducing the characters, explaining the play is about memory and, as such, will often be accompanied by music, be non-realistic and possibly over-sentimental. Such a clever device allows the director and actors to play without ever being accused of being ‘schmaltzy’.
All four performances are outstanding. Margot Leicester once again demonstrates her chameleon-like talents as an actress to portray the mother, Amanda. Such a complex character Leicester manages to show both her selfish, controlling side as well as her over-burdening love for her children, especially Laura, who she fears will grow old and lonely. If anything, her performance can only be criticised for being too ‘real’ for a drama supposedly played out from memory. Nathan Wiley makes a remarkable professional theatrical debut as Tom. Looking like he has been performing onstage for years he is entirely believable as the young man, trapped by family loyalty, desperate to escape the humdrum and make a life for himself. As Laura, Fiona Hampton imbues the character with meekness and timidity but often her childlike temperament overpowers her fragility – especially when one of prized glass animals gets damaged. Kieran Hill, as The Gentleman Caller, dominates the second half and is effortless to watch. Smartly dressed he is strong, charming, romantic, confused and ultimately, the unintentional heart-breaker.
The Glass Menagerie is not only a metaphor for Laura, but all of the characters, their situation and the play itself. Like the glass animals this play is beautiful yet incredibly easy to break. David Thacker directs with such delicacy it is as if everything is handled with white gloves. Another superb production from The Octagon as it continues to be one of the finest repertory theatres in the country.