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The Glass Menagerie at The West Yorkshire Playhouse

20 September 2015
The Glass Menagerie at The West Yorkshire Playhouse
This ‘memory play’ about pre-war nostalgia somehow remains timeless. The Glass Menagerie is reimagined within a neutral, modern context where the set is stripped back to the bare bones, existing within a strange dark room of memory.

The Glass Menagerie Article 1

Narrator and main character Tom (based loosely on Tennessee Williams’ own biography) first addresses us from the front of the stage, shoes removed, trousers rolled up, with his feet gently paddling a dark shallow pool that runs the length of the stage. As he unfolds instruction that his tale is admittedly riddled with sentimentality and nostalgia, its characters caricatures of humans and the ‘family’, the pool perhaps serves figuratively as some kind of murky pool of memory, the distorted patterns and swirls painted onto the screen behind him.

Figurativeness is key to the play’s approach to a sixty one year old tale. The props are minimal to non-existent and the effect is claustrophobic and two dimensional, with the human caricature of Tom’s mother launching between hysterics and freeze frames. Tom, played by Tom Mothersdale, is a dreamer, a poet and it has been inferred homosexual, cavorting the theatres at night, living vicariously through daydreams and movies.

The mother, played by Greta Scacchi, is histrionic, shrill and borderline delusional, sickly recalling her southern belle days and desperate to find her daughter Laura a ‘gentleman caller’ to miraculously alter their fortunes. Laura (Erin Doherty) is crippled not only physically, but mentally too, her disability made almost darkly hammy with a drag-style platform heel clumsily wrapped in masking tape creating of her a peculiar silhouette. She curls protectively round a glass snow globe, like a strange bird protecting her young. The shoe which symbolises her disability is shed in the final act in an odd, frenzied dance routine; as Laura is swirled around the room by Jim - their singular gentleman caller - forgetting herself for one feverish moment. Their dance also breaks the snow globe that she has thus far curled herself around so protectively, perhaps a literal token of the dome that encircles Laura’s own glass menagerie breaking. These figurative tokens are frequent and literal throughout the play, but their peculiarity perhaps narrowly avoids the obvious.

Eric Kofi Abrefa is cast as the enterprising, easygoing Joe, whose visit seems a tragic act of charity for the desperate family. Many have commented on the colour blind casting of Abrefa as the southern gentleman caller, in a time and geography that would realistically be riddled with racism and prejudice. Abrefa certainly exudes an easy charm, befitting the character of high school star Jim. Yet perhaps the fact that as a black actor he is cast into a historically inaccurate role also plays with the distorted reality that the play promotes, ironic perhaps after Tom’s comments that amongst admittedly exaggerated figures of his memory, Jim remains the most real, the most accurate.

Young director Ellen McDougall, whose credits include Anna Karenina at Manchester Royal Exchange, creates an off kilter realm where we too feel trapped in a sickly, airless world. On till the 3rd October at the broadway-esque Courtyard Theatre, which sits below the larger Quarry Theatre, the show is a great chance to see the work of Tennessee Williams reimagined.

By
Emma is a Freelance Writer for Leeds Living. She has a degree in English literature from the University of Leeds and specialises in writing cultural editorials.