‘The Glass Menagerie’ was dreamy.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 75 years since ‘The Glass Menagerie’ first premiered, but Brisbane Arts Theatre has served this production and beautifully captured the essence of Tennessee William’s infamous memory play.
Narrated by the young and ambitious Tom, this poetic and unforgettable play catapulted Williams into fame. The text explores escapism, family dynamics and broken realities, in which the characters are worlds apart. We follow the lives of Amanda Wingfield, the overbearing mother, Laura Wingfield, the violently shy sister and Tom Wingfield, the ambitious yet unfulfilled brother, who live together in a dingy St. Louis apartment.
Brisbane Arts Theatre’s production was as dreamy as a distant memory would be. As the audience took their seats, the stage was dimly lit, revealing the living room of the Wingfields’ cramped apartment. A scrim, in the form of an antique, white transparent fabric, transported the audience back to the 1930s while provoking them to feel as though they were looking into something that isn’t theirs – someone else’s memory.
The opening monologue, which is intelligently and intricately woven by Williams, introduced the audience to the show in a very literal sense. That is, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that this is a play and an audience is watching. Tom delivered the piece, standing in front of the scrim, as Laura and Amanda sat frozen behind in Tom’s memories. When the scrim was drawn a simple, yet effective set was revealed. LED lights shone up from the coffee table and chest of draws, lighting up Laura’s iconic glass animal collection.
As the characters made their way around the space in various scenes, they seemed to be followed by a warm glow. This once again enhanced the dream-like state that was established in the opening monologue, which signposted that it was all memory. This use of lighting created focus, and no space was in focus when it didn’t need to be. Directed by Brenda White, ‘The Glass Menagerie’s blocking was simple and utilitarian, and reflected a realism styled play. Despite this approach, there was a missed opportunity to lean into the hyper-realistic side of this play and use more stylised blocking.
Overall, the cast was overall strong. Alex Porteous in the role of Tom gave a standout performance. Although this was only Porteous’ fourth time appearing on stage, as stated in the programme, he commanded and captivated the audience with his charismatic portrayal of the iconic character. He delivered his narration with finesse and wonder and added a layer of sarcasm and attitude whenever he appeared in a scene with his mother, yet a nice contrast of softness in his interactions with sister Laura.
Virginia Gray portrayed Amanda as passively spiteful, yet loud, larger than life and completely over-bearing towards her children. While Gray’s slight vocal pattern sometimes took away from her believable performance, she appeared to have a clear understanding of her characters’ inner world and objectives. As Amanda talks of her days in the blue mountains and the over-romanticised world she is lost in, Gray made her seem almost crazy, tortured by her underlying hatred for her children in which she has devoted her life to.
While Bianca Butler-Reynolds at first appeared slightly too old for the role of Laura, this experienced actor rose to the occasion. She was soft, submissive, sweet and likeable in this complicated role. She perfectly balanced Laura’s fluctuating relationship with reality, as she battled with her fragility in the real-world and escaped into a world of fantasy when she gazed desperately at her glass animals.
As the only realistic character in the play (as is stated by Tom in the opening monologue), Jeremy Wood as Jim O’Connor gave an incredibly realistic performance, grounded in reality, creating the perfect contrast to the other characters, particularly Amanda and Laura. Wood’s comedic timing was effective, and his performance meant that O’Connor was immediately the most likeable character in the play.
Brisbane Arts Theatre’s production of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ was true to Williams poetic storytelling. Elements cohesively created a captivating production with a strong cast and effective technical aspects.
‘The Glass Menagerie’ plays at Brisbane Arts Theatre until Saturday, 9 November 2019. For tickets and additional information visit the Brisbane Arts Theatre’s Website.