The Glass Imaginary

An improvised play inspired by the works of Tennessee Williams, The Glass Imaginary exposes the problems inherent in improvising tragedy. I do not wish to disparage those involved, as no matter how hard they try, I don't believe their abilities as actors, writers, or directors would salvage a work such as this.

Failure in concept

The play begins by one of the performers asking for an object owned by a grandparent of an audience member. For the performance I watched, this object was referenced twice in the whole show, and in passing comments. It’s likely the object is more to provide framing for the actors. For us in the audience, its inclusion seems unrelated to the plot. The general structure of the play involves one of the actors becoming a neutral narrator, and describing the scene that is to follow. I will come onto the problems this creates later.

To describe the experience in one word would be simple: awkward. Every scene seems to lack movement. None of the actors are sure of where things are or should be going, so there is a lack of emotional weight. It all seems somewhat purposeless, and this makes the performance really drag. The most awkward moments occur when actors begin to speak at the same time, with one having to stop talking. It all feels like someone has forgotten their line, but no one remembers the rest of the plot. All the actors seem scared to commit to anything big until the last moments of the performance. If these moments are more present, perhaps it would be more engaging.

Williams’ tragedies have slow-burning plots and lots left unsaid, but with huge payoff. All the dialogue and scenes lead to the final revelations and conflicts. In The Glass Imaginary, the scenes feel out of place, with no real bearing to the ultimate plot. The ending, at least from the performance I saw, came out of nowhere, and lacked any feeling of satisfaction or payoff. It feels so jumbled because there is no plan before the performance. The characters feel confused because they are formed by their actor and the multiple narrators. A particularly bad example in the show I saw was a narrator saying the final scene would be in complete silence; the actor onstage began speaking mere seconds later. If the actors have an opportunity to discuss with each other how they want to shape the story once the framing device has been given, that could improve its issues with direction. Also, the multiple settings for multiple scenes seems to cause more issues than it’s worth. A single setting, with characters coming in and out, would be more organised, and not out of character for Williams’ works.

The dialogue feels as if it's trying to be profound, but only achieves such weight on sparse occasions. Improvisation lends itself to comedy, where outlandish lines are funny in their absurdity. Here the dialogue comes off very strangely. The worst example was a character describing someone's hands as "soft as a newborn dog's".

This is a hard performance to watch, but I do think there is the potential to improve the show. Maybe there is the possibility for a great production, but I was just unlucky.

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Reviews by Ben Johanson

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Performances

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The Blurb

In The Glass Imaginary, we improvise a brand-new play every evening inspired by the works of Tennessee Williams. Lush Southern accents, unrequited love, passionately requited love and inner turmoil all feature in this unique period piece. Set against the backdrop of the deep south, where everyone has a role to fulfil in life, we see characters who struggle to find their place. In 2022, when the world is again in turmoil and society seems unrecognisable, this piece takes on new meaning.

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