Left – Luke Mullins. Cover – Pamela Rabe. Photos – Brett Boardman
Belvoir’s production of The Glass Menagerie is a zoo of humanity. How so? The entire experience captures the human desire to escape to the wild, and resist the taming by expectations.
The Glass Menagerie is a comedy-drama set in 1930s St. Louis by US playwright Tennessee Williams (also of A Streetcar Named Desire fame). A family lives in the background breeze of a humdrum America that contrasts to the distant world’s wind of change. Domineering mother Amanda Wingfield both hen-pecks and nestles her adult children Tom and Laura – cooped up in a small apartment with only their dreams of the future and reminisces of the past as escape. Over seven scenes, the conflict escalates as their opposing expectations for the future collide. Working towards a seemingly superficial goal of finding Laura a husband, the ups and downs of daily life spiral out from minor nuisances into full-blown familial emotional brawls. Director Eamon Flack creates an experience that parallels a reality TV show – audience voyeurs take front row seats only to view a reflection on our own lives.
Plays, movies and TV about dysfunctional families are a dime a dozen – so how does The Glass Menagerie rate as entertainment in 2016? Firstly, the script itself is engaging, with twists and turns, building to a climax. Secondly, the entire production elevates Williams’ play to a contemporary level. Every last detail, from dialect coaching through to knick-knacks on shelves brings the audience a truly live experience.
The cast is faultless in their execution of Williams’ complex characters. Narrator Tom Wingfield (Luke Mullins) is an artsy shoe warehouse worker with aspirations of adventure. Mullins adeptly swings between Tom’s loyalty to his family and his passionate yearning to fulfil his dreams.
And oh my! Mother sure knows best. Pamela Rabe is made for the role of Amanda Wingfield. Every southern belle twang both grates and greets. Rabe entertains the audience with exaggerated mannerisms that elicit exasperation and empathy.
And then there’s Laura (Rose Riley). Although well into adulthood, she lives in her imagination. What will become of her? Riley’s soft movements and neutral poise contort in anxious moments so strongly that it’s tempting to run up and hug her.
Later in the story enters the siblings’ past high school acquaintance Jim O’Donnell (Harry Greenwood). He’s slick and savvy, yet insightful. Will he fulfil the Wingfield’s dreams? The masterful two steps forward and one step back of the plot draws us in.
Just as refined in quality are the production elements. Set Designer Michael Hankin constructs the Wingfield’s apartment with everything inside and out presented in micro-detail. Encouraging the voyeuristic sense are the multiple cameras connected to screens that overlay for close-ups. The effect is powerful: contrasting black and white with soft focus highlights the reflective moments.
Belvoir’s The Glass Menagerie has character depth, first-rate acting and high quality production values. Every aspect is refined to the nth degree to give the audience a rich experience.
The Glass Menagerie
by Tennessee Williams
Director Eamon Flack
Venue: The Playhouse | Canberra Theatre Centre
Dates: 4 – 7 May 2016