There are five characters in Tennessee William’s breakthrough “memory play”
Under the precise direction of Dundee Rep’s joint Artistic Director Jemima Levick, the poignant truths of this play are expertly handled by its cast.
For the most part, though, Williams’s play focuses on a family trinity which is slowly, but surely, breaking apart; our nominal “hero” Tom Wingfield, who at times acts like a stand-up comedian in front of a scruffy old microphone, and at others stands just off the set, observing what’s happening. He is, he insists, the opposite of a stage magician, “offering truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion”; and we are reminded of his role as both character and narrator constantly, not least by the repeated typewritten text projected above their heads like chapter titles in a novel.
Tom shares a cramped St Louis flat with his fragile, vulnerable sister Laura, and his overbearing mother Amanda, a former Southern Belle who is increasingly cut adrift from the world, scraping a meagre living trying to persuade women to renew their subscriptions to The HomeMaker’s Companion. He works in a shoe warehouse, earning just $65 a week; nick-named Shakespeare thanks to his aspirations as a writer, Tom yearns for adventure and escape but can’t see how — unlike Malvio the Magician, who he saw in a variety show — he can “get out of his coffin” without removing the nails.
Laura is mildly physically disabled, and to modern eyes almost certainly has some form of autism; painfully shy, she feels safe only when playing her old records and looking after her collection of small glass animals, the titular Glass Menagerie. Like any mother, Amanda is worried about her daughter’s prospects; the tragedy is that her old-school (even by 1930s-standards) attempts to ensure a good marriage are as frantic as they are pointless and doomed.
Under the precise direction of Dundee Rep’s joint Artistic Director Jemima Levick, the poignant truths of this play are expertly handled by its cast. Robert Jack as Tom and Irene Macdougall as Amanda may benefit from having the play’s most grandiose moments, but praise is especially deserved for Millie Turner as Laura, who delicately evokes our sympathies without our pity. Thomas Cotran also gives good-heartedness to what is essentially a cameo as the family’s much-anticipated Gentleman Caller, Jim O’Connor.
If there’s one slight misfire, it’s ironically with Alex Lowde’s set; though both memorable and simple, it’s undoubtedly larger than one might expect and, with its surrounding screens of multi-colour lights, somewhat fails to properly suggest the shabby back-lane apartment where the action is supposed to take place. Sometimes, you can take knowing theatricality a tad too far.