The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams is a four-character ‘memory play’, following (through the narrative of Tom Wingfield) the past, present, and future of his mother Amanda and crippled sister Laura. Amanda spends her days awaiting that certain ‘gentleman caller’ who is to whisk her daughter away and provide for her the happy life that she no longer has since her father (shown only as an oversized portrait on the wall) left sixteen years ago. Williams looks into the conventions of Southern hospitality and the pressures put on the young man of the house, who sacrifices his dreams in an attempt to draw his sister out of her own world of glass figurines.
The performance was superbly cast by Julia Horan, each actor bringing to the stage strengths and interpretations that made all the characters real and alive. Deborah Findlay (BBC’s Cranford) was an overbearing but compassionate mother, beautifully executed with a stunning command of the accent. At times I wasn’t sure if she was meant to have some sort of mental instability (which would, admittedly, explain her children), but whether intentional or not the role of Amanda was intricately developed.
Sinéad Matthews (NT’s Our Class) starred as Laura, the crippled but sweet-hearted daughter. All credit to Matthews, for this was a role that would challenge any actor: it combined physical and mental instability with a shy tenderness, culminating in her love for her little glass menagerie. Unlike some actors in other shows in which the character must have a deficiency of some kind, Matthews didn’t over do the slight immaturity of Laura, nor did I once feel she was played younger than her twenty-three years.
Opposite Matthews in Act Two was Kyle Soller (The Globe’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) as the sole gentleman caller, whose short but breathtaking performance as Jim kept your eyes glued on him throughout his scene. For me, he was a tragic character, still holding onto the life he had at high school and never fully opening up to the reality of his situation. The chemistry between Soller and Matthews was tangible but innocent, and there was a beautiful moment when Jim revealed to Laura that he had barely noticed her limp – I was near to tears during their intimate conversation and embrace.
Taking the narrative lead was Leo Bill, a remarkable change of character from his appearance in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Bill truly grasped the text, articulating the lines with the skill of a musician and drawing in the audience from the curtain’s first rise. His command of the stage through frozen tableaus and underlined by innovative music using wine glasses (Dario Marianelli Atonement and V for Vendetta OST) was something to behold, and you got from him a sense of vulnerability and frustration, the cracks opening wider as the play went on. Bill harnessed subtleties that can be missed by the wandering eye, flicks of the hand and nervous facial expressions physically brought out the disappointments and hardships of his life, whilst reflecting something of what life was like living with his oppressive mother and obsessive sister.
This performance, directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins, was truly spectacular. He created an intriguing, touching concept of a masterpiece, crafted by the playwright and given a fresh life by both director and designer (Jeremy Herbert). The set was almost interactive within the Young Vic space, bringing the story to the audience and filling the auditorium with vivacity and confidence.
As a Young Vic virgin, I was astounded on entering the theatre – such an innovative design allows scope for artistic creativity like I’ve never seen before in London. Regardless of the show, I want to see more there.
Unfortunately The Glass Menagerie ended its run on the 15 January, but I am so pleased I had a chance to catch this gem. If it ever comes back, be sure to find it, and keep an eye out on the venue purpose-built for adventurous young actors and directors.