Emotionally compelling, this play conveys familial relationships and the experiences of love, loss and humility.
Samuel Hodges, the director of The Nuffield Theatre, helms Tennessee Williams’ heartfelt and profoundly honest production of The Glass Menagerie, marking his directorial debut with The Nuffield. Based on Williams’ four-character memory play, it conveys the strength and prevailing conflict of family life and love, exhibiting the universal message that all human beings are imperfect and that every individual faces mental and emotional insecurities due to this.
The play is about a family consisting of a controlling, yet altruistic, mother Amanda (Belinda Yang) and her desire to find a “gentleman caller” for her unmarried and disabled daughter Laura (Pearl Chanda). Amanda’s son Tom (Danny Lee Wynter) is a frustrated warehouse worker who dreams of a better life and an escape from his domineering mother. Due to his mother’s insistence on finding Laura a “nice young man,” Tom brings to supper Jim (Wilf Scolding) however Laura realises that she knows him all too well, and the family’s tragic downfall unveils.
The play is narrated and set from Tom’s perspective. Wynter portrays his part spectacularly, he moved into the audience and set up a camera onstage, which throughout the play conveys images of family members and scenes which visualises the story and helps the audience to connect emotionally. One particularly prominent image is the use of the flowering blue roses as symbols for Laura, but also for new life, vividly expressesing her internal hopes, and her need to bloom in her current solitary life. The use of the projected writing reveals some of Williams’ original script, which was visually thrilling, as it added a modern style to the play, bringing it forward to relate to contemporary audiences. Such quotes as “The crust of humility” and the exclamations of “Terror!” reflected Laura’s internalised feelings and gave her more of a voice, which we do not hear a lot of until the final scenes of the play.
The stage is divided by blocks that open and close in rectangles between each scene, revealing and ending on certain characters, which outlines their significance and emphasises the claustrophobic setting of the apartment. The special effects were gripping and fuelled the tension, particularly the terrifying incident of the power-cut during the tense supper scenes. Lightning flashes over the audience, staged wind blows the curtains up, and rain sounds can be heard overhead, enabling the audience to become one with what is going on onstage. The overall effects were incredibly impactful as the audience was drawn into the play as it unfolds.
The Glass Menagerie also demonstrated an appreciation for the writer Tennessee Williams. The play is clearly linked to Williams’s own dysfunctional familial relationships from his childhood, and the production clearly picks up on this in its characterisation. Wang effectively portrays Tom and Laura’s controlling mother with humour and is incredibly convincing. However we can relate to her from our own familial experiences and when the haughtiness and vanity of her character is stripped away, we can deduce that she is just an overly caring and compassionate mother who wants the best for her children. Her daughter, Laura is played with humility and fragility by a compelling Pearl Chanda. With her dehumanising inferiority complex and her negativity because of her condition, her declarations to her mother that she can’t ever find love is incessantly poignant and heart-wrenching. Amanda’s son Tom is strikingly portrayed by a convincing Danny Lee Wynter, who has the role of narrating and acting in unison. Tom dreams of escape from his life in St. Louis, and Wynter portrays this desperation in his angry outbursts and verbal abuse of his mother. The compelling Wilf Scolding also effectively portrays the gentleman caller Jim, the optimistic character who tells Laura that nobody in the world is perfect, and that everyone has one thing that they succeed at. Scolding’s character appears heart-warming at first, yet eventually leaves the audience in sadness thanks to his treatment of Laura, and we are emotionally effected in witnessing her despondency and the destruction of her heart.
The ending of the play is very emotionally compelling, as the stage divisions close on Laura and Tom narrates the final scenes with poignancy, stating that it is time to “Blow out your candles Laura.” The extended metaphor of light and brightness throughout the play ends here as the family reach increased emotional turmoil. The play does indeed have universal truths to impart about life and love, and warns against the controlling aspect of love and the conflict between familial forces. It leaves you feeling in an indescribable state of self-reflection, yet it is an emotionally changing experience inviting you to appreciate what you have in life. It was overall influential and effective, as the audience members felt like they had become one when leaving the theatre, due to the emotional impact of what we had just witnessed on stage. It conveys how when everything is lost, familial love is the strongest and most powerful part of our lives, something that will always survive.
The Glass Menagerie is at The Nuffield Theatre until 31st October.