Review: The Glass Menagerie, West Yorkshire Playhouse

A scene from The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams.
A scene from The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams.
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Speaking to a theatre director following the press night of the Playhouse’s autumn season opener, he remarked that Tennessee Williams plays often remind you what a master Arthur Miller is.

It’s possibly a slightly unfair point, but one that holds true. Miller is a master and his plays stand up to the closest of scrutiny. That doesn’t mean Williams isn’t worth looking at, he absolutely is, it’s just that he’s not quite Miller.

In this production, created by a triumvirate of the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Liverpool Everyman and Headlong theatre company, the interesting decision appears to be to not take on Williams as someone who plunders the human soul in the way of other great American playwrights, but present it as an intellectual exercise.

Stripping back The Glass Menagerie to its bare elements, with a stage that is a literal black box, director Ellen McDougall presents no period or stage paraphernalia to unlock the story.

It is a bold decision and one that pays dividends. It means there is nothing between the emotionally wrung out performances, the script and the audience. We are regularly drawn into and incorporated in this world, particularly when Williams’ script lays out truths about the futility of the way many of us live our lives.

The sense of separation creates this strange sense for the audience of being set apart from the action, yet intellectually entirely engaged in it.

The big draw of this production is Hollywood actor Greta Scacchi, in the role of the emotionally unhinged mother of narrator Tom and his ‘crippled’ sister Laura. Her nervous, manic energy is tonally perfectly judged for a former southern belle, whose time in the limelight is long past.

Tom Mothersdale, as narrator Tom, who tells us the play is taken from his own memories, has buckets of confidence on stage and Erin Doherty as Laura gives a scene stealing turn as the damaged, insecure young woman.

This is a thoroughly directed production, with the tableaux and choreography around the stage clearly minutely plotted by McDougall. You’ll leave it with a strange sense of being at once involved and separated from the brilliant script and performances in front of you on the stage.

Nick Ahad

To Oct 3.