The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
Presented by State Theatre Company of South Australia. Directed by Adam Cook.
With Adam Cook departing as the Artistic Director of the State Theatre Company of South Australia, it is no surprise that we see Tennessee Williams’ memory play The Glass Menagerie. Cook handles this type of play best, his deft direction of canonical work comes to fore as he handles the wry humour and quiet tragedy of Williams’ play. With a strong ensemble of actors, who have saturated themselves in the text, and an intelligent design team, the production stands up to Williams’ brilliant writing. More interestingly, there is something vaguely familiar about Tom Wingfield’s pre-war America, with a depression and rise of extreme politics in Europe; the 30s don’t seem as distant. The Glass Menagerie is a tale of “paradise lost”, historically and personally, and Tom’s memories still echo, they endure because they face the bleakness of unfulfilled expectation.
The production opens with the cynical Tom Wingfield, played by Anthony Gooley, quite literally setting the stage. Victoria Lamb’s fragmented set flies in and rises up with Tom’s gestures. In a hazy light, the broken character recalls his broken memories. Admittedly, the play takes some warming up to; this is perhaps due to Tom’s character, though Gooley manages to communicate Tom’s particularly dark sense of humour. Tom’s overbearing mother Amanda Wingfield calls, and we are in St. Louis. In the scenes that follow Deidre Rubenstein, playing Amanda, takes on allegorical significance as she tries to revitalise a southern-upbringing for her children. Though her sickly daughter Laura seems reluctant and Tom has plans to leave. Not before the arrival of one gentleman caller, Jim O’Conner, who was expected to be in the Whitehouse by thirty, though never lived up to his high school reputation. Jim is a fading glimmer of hope for the hopeless Wingfields. The production’s timing is apt, given the current search for messianic statesmen, though The Glass Menagerie is a crystallisation of the personal and the fragile animals we see are not so unlike Laura’s glass collection.
It must be said that the ensemble invest totally in the performance, the two and fro between Anthony Gooley and Deidre Rubenstein is a sight to behold, Kate Cheel’s Laura is dynamic, funny and avoids the trap of a tragic heroine, and Nic English’s cheesy grin makes him the perfect superman. Every muscle is set in service of the play, and the actors bring a wonderful physicality to their performance. This is set against Stuart Day’s score, which borrows something of gospel music and the eerie ringing of glass, and with Mark Pennington’s cinematic lighting the production feels complete. There is something very organic about the production; there is a constant rhythm throughout, like the theatre and actors in it are sharing the same breath. Everything is in its right place and perhaps the theme of the play, or the fire-escape steps leading down to the orchestra pit, or “Paradise” lighting up and fading across the back of the stage, or the grandiose meditation on family and regret, but Cook’s production tips its hat to something of a Holy Theatre. In the opening monologue, Tom says, ‘I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.’ Indeed, there is truth in the poetry and beauty and idealism, which frankly can’t be articulated outside such sentimental language. Yet, there is something niggling about the production.
It is certainly a very good show, go and see it, as Cook never lets familiar moments slip into cliché. The point is, in the same way that seeing Chekhov or Shakespeare, seeing Tennessee Williams on Australia’s main stages is fairly safe. Ultimately, this production of The Glass Menagerie is aimed at a subscriber audience, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, the State Theatre Company of South Australia is in its 40th year, and now with Geordie Brookman taking the reigns as Artistic Director, it will be interesting to see how the company moves into the future. For the state’s flagship company, there remains the challenge of building new audiences; so more people will get a chance of seeing work like The Glass Menagerie.
The Dunstan Playhouse
Season 4th - 26th May 2012