The Glass Menagerie was due to begin rehearsals around 2020, but as COVID hit, the production paused indefinitely. Director, Atri Banerjee, and designer, Rosanna Vize, remark how their first few productions look vastly different to the end product, citing the social and political changes which took place in the last few years.
Similarly, Tennesse Williams’ play is set in 1944, at the end of the Second World War, where there was change in the air, ground, smells and sounds.
This instability plays a large, looming part in this production. The driving action of the play is done by Amanda, who is furiously looking for a suitor for Laura, to secure not just hers but the family’s future. Laura’s physical defect and the exclusions of her mother sabotage her self-esteem. The lack of hope placed in Tom’s ability or job to secure their future creates further rifts in the Wingfields’ family.
The cast stars Geraldine Somerville as Amanda, who played Laura in the Royal Exchange’s first production of The Glass Menagerie. In this production, Laura was played by Rhiannon Clements, who won the 2019 Spotlight Prize for best stage actor. She plays Laura with a clever deftness and pity.
Joshua James plays Tom, who works in theatre, film and television. Finally, Eloka Ivo plays Jim O’Connor, the only ‘realistic’ character of the play. He has a plethora of theatre credits across the UK and USA.
There were hardly any props in use – a few chairs, the circular stage lined with flowers after the interval, and a portrait of a whimsical old man just out of sight from where I was sitting. Then there is giant neon of paradise above it all, inspired by Martin Creed’s MOTHER sign – a glaring, unreachable, slow-turning work of art above the actors. This gave the play an empty feeling, as though we were seeing an abandoned space with abandoned people.
A dream sequence plays out between Laura and Jim – moody and uplifting. Jim and Laura break into the sequence, dancing and sharing kisses, but with a shake of Laura’s head, we are firmly thrown back into reality. This harshness becomes even more dramatic as Jim is already engaged to another woman. This breaks Laura’s heart, Amanda’s dreams, and Tom’s desire for another future.
There was an underwhelming presence of Laura and Tom, which magnified their mother. The actors themselves brilliantly played hopeless and anxious siblings whose only comfort seemed to be each other; they shared a few valuable moments of hope.
The escapism of Laura’s glass figurines and Tom’s movies baffle Amanda – whose one fantasy of a secure fantasy seems as equally whimsical, thus becoming more a source of escapism, like her childrens’.
The Glass Menagerie is running at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 8th October. Some shows are socially distanced, relaxed, captioned, and BSL interpreted, and there is even an audio described tour. Check the website for their specific dates.