At the end of Theatr Pena’s crystalline presentation of The Glass Menagerie I was left with a feeling of deep sadness, such was the poignancy of the four actors’ utterly absorbing portrayal of Tennessee Williams’ incision into memory.
The approach of director Erica Eirian and her design team, award-winning Holly McCarthy and lighting designer Kay Haynes along with the score’s composer Peter J Knight, stayed true to the author’s instruction as vocalised by the semi autobiographical narrator, Tom, the preface spoken to the audience, “The play is memory. Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.”
Rosamund Shelley and Rhys Meredith
Thus we have minimalist set and props, a couch, a dining table and chairs, a stylised fire escape that is the “porch” of this southern family living in reduced circumstances in an apartment block in St Louis. We also have the record player on which the nervous and disabled Laura plays old discs that belonged to the father that abandoned his wife Amanda and the two children, Laura and Tom, many years ago when his obsession with the long distance opportunities of telephony took a literal form.
Central throughout is the glass menagerie, the collection case in which Laura keeps her little zoo of animals with the unicorn at its heart; the horse with the strange horn that means it never really fits in with the others. The mother, Amanda, desperately yearns for a husband for the fragile girl, But when Laura has a gentleman caller, Jim, the brief escape into what seems like a burgeoning romance, symbolised by Jim teaching Laura how to dance, results in the unicorn being knocked over, its horn broken off. Laura says, “I’ll just imagine he had an operation … to make him feel less freakish.”
That desperate attempt to find some sort of happiness, or at least security, for Laura (and by inference the mother) is shattered when Jim reveals (or at least says) he already has a fiancé. Laura’s reaction is to give him the broken unicorn as a souvenir of their meeting
Holly McCarthy’s design, a space marked out by neon strip light which also forms the revealing empty frame of what we are told is the portrait of the father who went long distance and never returned, marks the limits of this artificial world, the psychological prison cell for both Laura and the mother and from which Tom has to escape
Yet it all hangs on the performances in this intimate , closed-in, domestic drama where the four players are totally exposed and under our inspection, like those transparent creatures in Laura’s menagerie. Fortunately they are superb.
Gareth Pierce and Rhys Meredith
Rosamund Shelley negotiates the fine line between being the insufferable domineering witch and tragic devoted mother and abandoned wife, you can almost smells the southern air, the bunches of jonquils and even a slight odour of moth balls on her faintly ridiculous ball gown. Eiry Thomas captures the not just fragility but also damage, physical and emotional, of Laura. However, she does not play her as a caricature victim, rather she is a carefully drawn young woman, sensitively portrayed in voice, expression and physical movement.
Rhys Meredith, in the role of Tom, is the most intriguing character as he rips himself apart facing the impossibility of the situation, desperate to break free from his mother and her antebellum ramblings and crushing control but aware of the consequences of that escape for his sister. In his terse pained vocal explosions to the tender moments with Laura we feel his angst as he struggles with whether to follow his father’s path and flee, called by a belief he is capable of more or accept the confines of the menagerie? My only caveat is at times finding a slight jar between the Tom on the dialogue with other characters and the more laconic narrator (including accent shifts).
As that gentleman caller who of course is no such thing, Gareth Pierce exudes the drive and energy of the ambitious modern American with awareness of his own unrealised potential. The scene where he not only reveals his frustration, disappointment and determination to rise above it but urges Laura to do the same is both charming and, ultimately, heartbreaking.
This interpretation of the work tells the story with intelligence leaving space for our own further thought and analysis, without gimmicky allusions to the myriad of messages Williams’ could have and probably was sharing with us about his own life, sexual orientation, disappointments, physical and emotional damage and challenges to overcome, or not. Now I’m off to the movies.
This is a sparkling addition to Theatr Pena’s diverse work and a reminder of the power of live performance to uniquely affect us.
The Glass Menagerie, Theatre Pena
Co-production with The Riverfront.
We have a pair of discounted crowd funder tickets available for one of the North Wales venues of your choice, along with a wide selection of other top shows.
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Also check out review of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Theatr Clwyd. Show tours after Theatr Clwyd run.
The Glass Menagerie Tour Dates
February / Chwefror
Newport / Casnewydd, The Riverfront / Glan yr Afon
11.02.16, 12.02.16, 13.02.16, 7:30pm
01633 656757 / newport.gov.uk/theriverfront
Milford Haven / Aberdaugleddau, Torch Theatre / Theatr y Torch
01646 695267 / torchtheatre.co.uk
Pontardawe, Pontardawe Arts Centre / Canolfan Celfyddydau Pontardawe
01792 863722 / pontardaweartscentre.com
Pwllheli / Neuadd Dwyfor
01758 704088 / gwynedd.gov.uk/neuadd-dwyfor
Mold /Yr Wyddgrug, Clwyd Theatr Cymru
23.02.16, 24.02.16 7.45pm
01352 701521 / theatrclwyd.com
Newtown / Y Drenewydd, Hafren
01686 614555 / thehafren.co.uk
Abergavenny / Y Fenni, The Borough / Theatr Y Bwrdeistref
01873 850805 / boroughtheatreabergavenny.co.uk
Carmarthen / Caerfyrddin, The Lyric / Y Lyric
0845 2263510 / theatrausirgar.co.uk
March / Mawrth
Barry, Memo Arts Centre / Canolfan Y Celfyddydau
01446 400111 / memoartscentre.co.uk
Cardigan / Aberteifi, Theatr Mwldan
01239 621200 / mwldan.co.uk
01286 685222 / galericaernarfon.com
Dyffryn Aeron, Theatr Felinfach
01570 470697 / theatrfelinfach.com
Aberystwyth, Aberystwyth Arts Centre / Canolfan y Celfyddydau Aberystwyth
01970 623232 / aberystwythartscentre.co.uk
Blackwood / Coed Duon, Blackwood Miners Institute / Sefydliad y Glowyr
01495 227206 / blackwoodminersinstitute.com
Brecon / Aberhonddu, Theatr Brycheiniog
01874 611622 / theatrbrycheiniog.co.uk
Swansea / Abertawe, Taliesin Arts Centre / Canolfan y Celfyddydau Taliesin
01792 602060 / taliesinartscentre.co.uk