The Glass Menagerie. Auckland Theatre Company.
Selwyn Theatre. 16th May – 8th June.
We begin in the grayscale world of American industry: the smoky stage is dressed with large industrial crates, furniture covered in dust cloths and a long bare wall stretching across the upstage area. As Tom leads us into the world of his memory, the stage transforms into the sepia-toned world of 1930’s St. Louis. The set featured a revolving stage (which seems to be in vogue in Auckland Theatre), which was executed perfectly and served the action of the play. It both confined the Wingfield’s world to the point of claustrophobia and allowed the audience a fascinating opportunity to examine their world from every angle and with each revolution, the tension and psychology of the world wound tighter. Much like the figurines in Laura’s menagerie, the Wingfields too are under a bell jar, their fragility on show for the entire audience to examine closer through the lens of Tom’s memory.
Throughout the play, we are treated to projections (across the crates and wall) of the play’s fifth character. He is the physically absent, but ever-present father whose desertion condemned the family to the fate we see them suffocating under the weight of. As the action progresses, the projections include illustrations of the dialogue and some wondrous light trickery in the scenes where Laura’s glass animals come out to play. Though the light play was magical and the image of the father suitably haunting, I felt the sheer number of crates and projections made for a disappointing sense of clutter and distraction from the action proper.
Hawthorne’s performance is a tour de force: her delusional dances across the stage and lyrical Southern drawl means we wouldn’t be able to take our eyes off her if it weren’t for the strength of her fellow players. Wright’s cerebral Tom wanders between the fantastical memory world of the play and the reality the audience watches it from. Prebble’s personification of social anxiety allows the audience to invest in her and makes her fate all the more heartbreaking. I have never seen the brunette beauty tread the boards before, but I hope to again very soon. In the second act, Knowles enters as a breath of fresh air, a character firmly rooted in reality whose pragmatism provides the audience and the Wingfields something to cling to hopefully.
If you’ve never seen The Glass Menagerie: go. If you have: go. This production is not to be missed. ATC brought Jef Hall-Flavin over from the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival and his wealth of knowledge about the enigmatic playwright makes for an astute and sensitive (but thankfully not sentimental) treatment. The brilliance of Williams’ writing is how a seemingly simple story can be evocative of so much and, while the play will next year celebrate the seventieth anniversary since its premiere, the energy and gravitas with which the stellar cast brings it to life proves its longevity and dynamism.
Photo Credit: Auckland Theatre Company