Review: THE GLASS MENAGERIE at His Majesty's Theatre

Modern telling of classic play is brilliant all round from Black Swan Theatre Company

By: Aug. 13, 2022
Review: THE GLASS MENAGERIE at His Majesty's Theatre
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Review: THE GLASS MENAGERIE at His Majesty's Theatre

Tennessee Williams' classic play THE GLASS MENAGERIE transformed the stage at His Majesty's Theatre with some modern touches that enhance how this story is told. BLACK SWAN Theatre Company's creative talents (and talented creatives) come to the fore to deliver a memorable and thought-provoking performance.

THE GLASS MENAGERIE is semi-autobiographical, with details more factual than allegorical. Tennessee Williams gives the main character and narrator his real name- Tom- whilst the character's sister Amanda is nicknamed Blue Roses, a hark to Williams' sister Rose. Williams also spent time in a shoe factory, sharing an occupation with narrator Tom. As long time collaborator Elia Kazan said of Tennessee Williams, "Everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life." The autobiographical elements seem to lend themselves to the feeling of the play that brings the audience on an emotional rollercoaster, with the narrative having us wanting each character in turn to succeed and later to fail, until everyone is reconstructed in a charming ending where, despite nothing being resolved per se, there is a feeling that each character for the first time is content.

Without a curtain, Fiona Bruce's set design is immediately striking. Whilst appearing somewhat plain at first, the set comes to life with under Lucy Birkinshaw's lighting design. Michael Carmody contributes something not oft seen, with video design adding a further element to the play. The fifth character in the play- the absent father whose portrait sits above the fireplace- is personified by the videos, and weight added to his character through this unique avenue. Composer and pianist Tom O'Halloran is visible but not obvious at the back of the stage, and his music perfectly suits the play. As with the family dynamic portrayed in the show, O'Halloran's music has an air of familiarity, with variations and quick progressions that match the action on stage. Another off-stage presence deserving of praise is voice and accent coach Julia Moody. Each accent is excellent, with McElhinney's Southern accent losing its polish after years in St Louis, Joel Jackson's mid-western accent steeped heavily in the working class whilst Acacia Daken's is one of isolation, and Jake Fryer-Hornsby's twang shows a more settled upbringing and perhaps loftier ambitions, with a heavy hint of confidence absent from the others.

Review: THE GLASS MENAGERIE at His Majesty's Theatre
Mandy McElhinney as Amanda and Joel Jackson as Tom

Mandy McElhinney plays Amanda Wigfield, the Southern matriarch of the family who persistently struggles with the disconnect between how she dreamed her life would be and how it has turned out. The fracture this causes between Amanda and her adult children is perfectly illustrated by McElhinney, with her supportive façade often faills and gives way to a more overbearing style. The love she has, though, never falters, with McElhinney managing to paint a deeper picture of internal struggles through her performance. The narrator and central character of Tom Wigfield is played by Joel Jackson. Tom starts as a somewhat idyllic son and brother under the control of an unreasonable mother, however as the play progresses- perhaps as the events become more recent and memories of them clearer- Tom becomes more troublesome and abrasive, spending more time retreating to his vices. The change from dreamer into daydreamer is brought across by Jackson's outstdanding performance. As Laura Wingfield is Acacia Daken, who brilliantly shows off the character's fragility. Laura is somewhat the focal point of the second act and you can't help but wanting her to succeed thanks to Daken's performance having been drawn deeply into the character through a slow burn introduction. As Jim O'Connor is Jake Fryer-Hornsby, who is focussed on self-improvement. Fryer-Hornsby begins as the perfect partner for Laura, however his appeal fluctuates as Fryer-Hornsby's portrayal gives away more of the character. The portrayal, as well as the dynamic with Acacia Daken's Laura, uses the tension with the audience perfectly; building it, reducing it, and breaking it with expert timing. The chemistry between Daken and Fryer-Hornsby is one of many highlights of the play.

THE GLASS MENAGERIE speaks for itself as an icon of literature, however BLACK SWAN Theater company enhances it with exquisite staging and superb acting. The performers drag the audience in so deeply that you may ask the characters at the beginning "How can you do that to each other?" but at the end you ask "How can you do that to me?" The complex tapestry woven of relationships and hopes is irresistible and each character's journey is perfectly represented. This modern retelling of a classic is less something to be seen and more something to be experienced, but either way it is not to be missed.

THE GLASS MENAGERIE is at His Majesty's Theatre until August 21, with several matinees and more accessible performances. Tickets and more information available from BLACK SWAN Theatre Company

Photo Credit: Daniel J Grant