“The play is memory” says Tom at the top of the play. “Being a memory play it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.”
And so begins Black Swan State Theatre Company’s production of Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie. In a bold move, director Kate Cherry has taken Williams’ words literally and the audience is greeted by a highly stylised set and unnatural lighting. Thankfully, this departure from the norm works, and this production is a wonderful portrayal of Williams’ piece of loss, longing and love.
Four characters appear throughout the production. Tom Wingfield (Steve Turner) both narrates and portrays a younger version of himself, opening the play as his older self before entering his family’s apartment and a time long gone. Tom’s mother Amanda (Gillian Jones) is a woman full of regrets struggling to survive in the 1930’s world.
Tom’s sister Laura (Melanie Munt) who is exceedingly shy, is locked in her own internal misery and retreats to her glass menagerie collection and old Victrola ‘phone records to cope. The last and yet most realistic character is Jim O’Connor (Myles Pollard), the gentleman caller that Amanda so desperately wants to care for her daughter. Tom and Laura’s father and Amanda’s husband, is talked of often but merely appears in a life size photo on the wall.
This is Gillian Jones’ second foray into the character of Amanda Wingfield with Cherry at the helm, having starred in the Melbourne Theatre Company production a few years ago. The gaiety tinged with regret and desperation Jones brings to the character is touching, although I personally find the character irritating. Amanda smothers both her children, inevitably forcing one to leave and one to retreat internally.
Melanie Munt as the “crippled” and exceedingly shy Laura portrayed her character with a softness and grace that was a welcome change to Amanda. Her frailty was emphasized when the gentleman caller (Pollard) came calling – his tall presence (both physically and verbally) on stage dwarfed Laura and indeed, all the Wingfield’s. Whether this was intentional is unknown, but it served to remind the audiences of the ‘smallness’ of the Wingfield’s lives.
Steve Turner was last seen on the Black Swan State Theatre Company’s stage in the comedic Cyrano de Bergerac. Here, his versatility as an actor is shown as he deftly portrays a man lost, looking back on his life and his family. His opening lines “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion,” drew me (and seemingly the rest of the audience) into his story. His journey and final scene held me until the closing lines.
Adam Gardnir’s stylised set; all angles, rakes, and clear glass worked effectively, although was juxtaposed against the use of realistic furniture. When looked at as a whole the set became an inward spiral which if continued, would get smaller and smaller and smaller. Tom, when talking as his older self, stood out of the spiral on a side ledge which doubled as the fire escape landing.
Jon Buswell’s lighting was suitably dim as promised, and occasional bright spurts of light ensured that it was anything but natural. I hope Perth gets the chance to hear more of both Paul Grabowsky (composer) and Graeme Blevins (Saxophonist) in the future. The lilting, almost haunting nature of the sax perfectly fitted into the piece, and the use of additional music was superb.
It is really only at the end of The Glass Menagerie that you can look back and appreciate the brilliant word smithing and emotional journey of the characters. There are many layers and themes and Cherry has done a wonderful job (again) of bringing the best out of the words and performers. Undoubtedly, each audience member will find something they relate to. This is a classic piece of theatre, and this production is definitely worth seeing.
Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
The Glass Menagerie
by Tennessee Williams
Director Kate Cherry
Venue: Playhouse Theatre
Dates: 14 – 29 March 2009
Tickets: $48 - $15