King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – until 21 August 2016
Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
There is a taut emotional quality to John Tiffany’s production of Tennessee Williams classic The Glass Menagerie at the King’s Theatre as part of the Edinburgh International Festival.
John Tiffany’s New York production received several Tony nominations and is presented at the Festival with a different cast – other than the celebrated (and Tennessee-born) Cherry Jones. In Williams’ autobiographical ‘memory play’, Jones plays Amanda Wingfield, the matriarch who wishes her son Tom to procure a ‘gentleman caller’ for his shy, disabled sister Laura. Tom is a frustrated writer working at a warehouse, while Laura’s only interest is the collection of glass animals that give the play its title.
Amanda, meanwhile, takes refuge in memories of the ‘Southern hospitality’ and long-gone world of her youth, simultaneously resenting her children and wishing the best for them.
Michael Esper’s Tom hints at the way Williams’s sexuality may have affected his situation more overtly than could have been done when the play was written. He echoes his mother’s dramatic gestures in an altogether camper way, with his sidelong glances at the gentleman caller, and glee in their playful rough-housing, hinting at what he might really be looking for on his nightly ‘trips to the movies’. It is a rounded and unusually sympathetic portrayal – which can also be said for Kate O’Flynn’s thoroughly broken Laura.
a complex determination and fury
Seth Numrich is an amiable and urbane gentleman caller, but the play really belongs to Jones’s Amanda. She inhabits the part entirely, giving the disillusioned Southern belle a complex determination and fury, making her a strange mixture of love, rage and incomprehension that the world she knew has gone.
Michael Esper and Cherry Jones. Photo: Johan Persson
The humidity and rainstorms evoked in the text are given subtle life by its extraordinary staging. Bob Crowley’s wonderful set, with pools below the stage and a fire escape in the sky above it, is bathed in pockets of crepuscular half-light by Natasha Katz, giving a melancholy delicacy to everything that takes place.
Tiffany’s thoughtful direction gives a tragic, claustrophobic feel. At times the repressed emotion, the resentment and friction caused by family history and social pressures threaten to boil over, but instead settles into a sombre reflection.
Even with the best will in the world, it is sometimes impossible to avoid expectations before seeing a play. This production came from Broadway trailing clouds of glory, and it is perhaps not the earth-shaking masterpiece that might be hoped for. On its own terms, however, it is very fine indeed.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval
(Part of the Edinburgh International Festival
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven St, EH3 9LQ
Friday 5 – Sunday 21 August 2016
Daily (not Tues): 7.30 pm (except Sun 21)
Matinees: Thurs 11, Sat 13, Wed 17, Fri 19 at 2.30 pm
Sun 21: 1.00 pm and 6.00 pm
Book tickets on the EIF website: http://www.eif.co.uk/2016/glassmenagerie#.V68hIlfw_R0
Company website: http://americanrepertorytheater.org