It’s strange, but I completely loved The Glass Menagerie. It’s strange because I studied this play for A Level and absolutely hated it. My experience left me with a lasting dislike of Tennessee Williams that only the Young Vic’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire was able to fully expel; and yet I fell in love with John Tiffany’s production at the Duke of York’s Theatre. Whether this is because of the way my own personality has developed in the intervening period, because Menagerie is a play you have to see to appreciate, or because of the excellence of this particular production, I can’t say; but already it’s a contender to be among my top plays of the year.
Loosely autobiographical, it sees the narrator, Tom, looking back on his life with his mother and sister. His mother, Amanda, is a former Southern belle in the best Williams tradition; his sister, Laura, is shy and quiet, with a disability as the result of a past illness and few interests beside her glass animals: her “glass menagerie”. Amanda wants nothing more than to get Laura married off, and nags Tom to bring home a ” nice young man” for dinner. The resulting young man, Jim, seems promising but ultimately ends up breaking Laura’s heart.
The play takes on the quality of a dream, with an expressionistic set by Bob Crowley including a staircase ascending into nowhere. All four actors are wonderful in their respective roles: Michael Esper as Tom, Cherry Jones as Amanda, Brian J. Smith as Jim and especially Kate O’Flynn as Laura. Its wonderful and heartbreaking to see her blossom in the young man’s company; heartbreaking because you know what is going to happen. When I originally studied the play, one of the things I remember disliking about it was its supposed simplicity and heavy-handed metaphor. Its only now that I can see that it’s not simple at all, but complex and delicate as Laura’s glass figures.
This production is a relevation: profound and perfectly balanced. I loved it.