The Glass Menagerie

"I give you the truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion,” one of the most enigmatic but telling lines of Tennessee Williams' memory play. The opening monologue sets its tone early on. The Glass Menagerie works best when one is drawn into the world of its characters and era. While abstract in nature, there is a touching human story about memory and the relationship we have with our parents.

The piece centres around Amanda Wingfield, a neurotic matriarch who is incensed about producing a “gentleman caller” for her “crippled” daughter, while keeping check on her son, Tom, who has dreams and aspirations beyond the fire escape of St. Louis.

Amanda is a delightful role for an actress, giving opportunities for humour and neurosis in equal measure. In the central role, we have a performance by Geraldine Somerville which teeters on the verge of Mommie Dearest with an overplayed sense of heightened emotion. In a script which is naturalistic and deals with low-key interactions, this felt out of place and sadly left a central hole in the production.

The supporting cast is more successful in their approach. Kasper Hilton-Hille gives the standout performance in his portrayal of Tom. He is an actor with true nuance and is equally assured as the angst-ridden teenager and his older, more contemplative counterpart: it is through his expressions that one feels drawn into the story. 

Equally impressive is Natalie Kimmerling as Laura, a difficult role by nature, but Kimmerling underplays her sadness with a modern quality that comes into its own with her dialogue with the gentleman caller, O’Connor: arguably the play's most powerful scene.

In terms of the production, director Atri Banerjee brings a minimalistic and oddly anachronistic take to the story. While Williams wrote this to invoke memory, I wanted this show to be more grounded in its era and style. The use of Whitney Houston power ballads and a mixture of modern and period costume felt out of place to me.

Staged on a vast and largely empty Rose Theatre stage, I found myself wondering if this would have worked better in a studio space, paying closer attention to the actors and the writing. 

However, I must give special highlights to Lee Curran’s subtle yet atmospheric lighting and Giles Thomas’s incidental musical score that aid in creating moments of visual splendour.

The Glass Menagerie was a bold choice from the Rose Theatre. As a show with little narrative drive, this production needed a clearer vision to bring its message home. It may be a memory play, but the feeling it conjures is one of a foggy recital.

This show was reviewed on the 18th April 2024 at the Rose Theatre, Kingston where it runs until the 4th May 2024.  Tickets available here: The Glass Menagerie — By Tennessee Williams | Rose Theatre, Kingston, London

Review written by Alex Farley


Photo credit: Marc Brenner

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