As the old Granada production of Brideshead Revisited proved many moons ago, it is hard to go wrong with a performance if you’re working with a beautifully written original text. Seeing the Falstaff society stage The Glass Menagerie rekindled a teenage love affair with the works of Tennessee Williams and, in turn, probably biased me towards being de facto enamored with any group who select to perform it.
As a simplified narrative, The Glass Menagerie provides very little fluff for actors to hide behind. In this instance, all four actors gave confident performances, without resorting to any overt showiness. Ed Phillips and Letty Thomas as, respectively, Tom and Amanda Wingfield were the unequivocal stars of the show, whilst Alice Kirk installed in Laura Wingfield a heightened level of self-assuredness than is often present in performances of this work. At first, the emboldened Laura was a slight shock, but after adjusting to it, this slight reworking of the character shifted the focus of the narrative towards a discussion of the outsider in society (who, when asked is ‘doing quite nicely, thank you very much’) as opposed to a more downbeat musing on single women and the disabled.
For a young woman, Letty Thomas portrayed the intensely overwrought and marginally delusional mother, Amanda, with great subtlety and insight. It was the sort of performance that one assumes can only come from years of observing overbearing parents in the natural world, but I hope for Thomas’s sake this is not the case. The costume choices for this fading Southern Belle were also neatly selected, silk instead of cotton implying weeks of saving for the pathetic suggestion of luxury.
The only variation on other performances of the same text which I remained unsure about, was the omitting of any obvious limp for Laura. Conference with a fellow viewer, who was unfamiliar with the text, suggested this might not be a problem as Laura could have suffered from a physical disability in her youth which had by now disappeared (making the comments of Jim O’Connor regarding it as unnoticeable more than idle flattery). However, not having it present did make certain lines problematic, particularly those referring to Laura as ‘a cripple’, plus the moment at which she trips on the fire escape steps – usually an incredibly uncomfortable moment to watch in terms of both her wounded pride and the possibility of actual wounds – was rendered underwhelming.
As with the play itself, the last words of this review must be reserved for Ed Phillips’s performance as Tom Wingfield. Looking perfectly underfed – I’m hoping a proportion of ticket sales revenue is designated for a slap up meal for Phillips – and suitably D. H. Lawrence-esque in his portrayal of the wannabe poet confined to cruddy monotony in a dead-end job, Phillips reminded the audience of the uncertainty which accompanies any dream to ‘make it’ in the arts world. Based on the night’s performance – and their good taste in playwrights – I sincerely hope this group of young people avoid Job Centre Plus, and Jim O’Conner-dom, and find success.