Heart of Glass

Ollie Evans 14 March 2008

The Glass Menagerie, Corpus Playroom, 11-15 Feb, 7pm

The Glass Menagerie is a memory play that promises to give us ‘truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion’. From the silent and dimly lit opening, as Tom Wingfield reveals the set from beneath their dustcovers, we are dealt with a sincere but generally humourless interpretation of Tennessee Williams’ play about escape and regret. With a dedicated cast and inspired set this production is often fettered by its cautious approach to an otherwise engaging evening at the Corpus Playroom.

Director Josh Seymour’s translation of Williams’ expressionistic set to the Playroom works well within the space, until the actors find themselves bunched up against the couch, obviously ill at ease with their restrictive blocking. But a set of steps, representing the stairwell, amplifies the cluttered claustrophobia of the Wingfield’s apartment and functions as raised platform for Tom as he narrates his past and makes space for moments of beauty when a spotlight encircles him, suggesting a cross between the bright lights of the theatre and the melancholic indifference of the moon. Another moving touch to the design is an empty picture frame to represent the absent father, its presence throughout serves the various omissions of objects such as telephones, cutlery and the front door which did justice to Williams’ intended ‘disguise of illusion’. When props were used they were used to good effect. Amanda’s notebook, which she uses to make her quietly desperate phone calls to subscribers of The Home-Maker’s Companion, reoccurs as she excitedly takes down notes when Tom announces the imminent arrival of The Gentleman Caller, pinpointing the sincerity and comic over-zealousness of her character.

Unfortunately, the acting did not always match up to the setting. Eve Rosato’s Amanda packed in plenty of tortured emotion but her performance was undermined by a noticeable lack of confidence and Southern glamour. This might have had something to do with Seymour’s directorial caution which displayed itself when Amanda’s line “I’ll be the darkey” was cut; an entirely unnecessary hindering of Williams’ non-judgemental wit which set a rather flat keynote for the rest of Amanda’s portrayal. Dave Walton’s performance as Tom subsequently overshadowed Rosato’s muted melodrama and, despite his broody intelligence, their scenes lacked any sense of a dramatic arch. This atmosphere of floundering and directionless intensity might give justice to the mode of the play but it was difficult for an audience to engage with. Ed Rowett’s portrayal of Jim O’Conner, the long awaited Gentleman Caller, provided a casual and slightly bemused presence for the Wingfields; his down trodden charm provided a humorous counterpoint to Amanda’s enthusiasm but it had the tendency to trivialise Laura’s tragic rejection. Eleanor Massie as Laura was the highlight of the evening and her scene with Jim was heart-breaking; every facial expression, line and movement was believable and worthy of tears from the audience. Which she got.

Despite the apparent set-backs with confidence and lack of emotional subtlety, The Glass Menagerie was a moving and worthy attempt at Tennessee Williams’ play, with a cast of incredibly talented actors waiting to be pushed just that little bit further.

Ollie Evans