‘The play is memory’. That one phrase has the power to throw everything off-kilter, for us to question and over-analyse everything we see. That is perhaps the beauty of Jeremy Herrin’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, because it makes us more aware of the layers of reality within this play. This adaptation is blue roses in every way possible. Between the delicate and precise use of Williams’ language that is full to the brim with symbolism, double meaning, and the staging itself, The Glass Menagerie takes on a new life on the Duke of York Theatre’s stage.
Something unique, extraordinary, and rare
Set in 1930s St Louis, The Glass Menagerie tells the tale of the Wingfield family, each of whom are lost in their own worlds and past. Narrated by Tom (Paul Hilton), who has a dual role of being the narrator and a character in the play (Tom Glynn-Carney), we are taken through the period in which his mother Amanda (Amy Adams) tries to find a gentleman caller for his sister, Laura (Lizzie Annis). Set on a dimly lit stage to music and projections, the dream-like memory state is brought to life, as even we are left to second-guess what exactly takes place before our eyes. The placement of the glass menagerie itself onstage adds to the feeling of distance, not only for us, but for the characters looking into the action of their lives from the outside. In this way we are led to feel as if we are encroaching on private family moments, that which we never see from an outside perspective.
Splitting the character of Tom leads to less clunky transitions between narration and action. Hilton’s presence onstage allows us to reflect on our own reaction to the past, especially ones where we wish we had done or said something different. Whilst Hilton’s reactions can sometimes be distracting, it is his interaction with the scenes and characters that give us more to think about. Glynn-Carney appears like a restless, disillusioned soul, trying to find something more in the mundane, which brings the autobiographical nature of the character to the forefront. The fact that this character is a memory, a past fragment of the narrator is incredibly clear, as Glynn-Carney’s interpretation does recall a spirit not quite at rest. In his interpretation, a seemingly dual persona emerges where we can see both a revolutionary worker that Lenin talks about in his writings that strives for something more as well as the complacency and neutralisation in American society that Marcuse writes about. The ongoing battle between the two sides presents a form of frustration and something quite close to nihilism. Adams is an incredibly talented actress; one only needs to look through her repertoire to see that. She puts on the skin of Amanda with ease and becomes the ageing Southern belle, clinging to the past and her two children in the same overbearing way. But her interpretation of the character is not particularly big, Adams is muted, at odds with the characterisation of Amanda - and in a play where aspects will be exaggerated as part of the memory trope, the only natural conclusion would be that aspects of her character would also be larger to the point of ridiculousness, as Williams intended. Adams does take possession of each scene that she is in, but her performance just lacks. Whilst Adams’ interpretation is valid, it may miss the point of the character entirely. A character who Williams’ brother claims Williams quoted her practically word for word and is so like their own mother that she could have sued him for plagiarism. And considering this factor, seeing the lack of this larger-than-life presence is disappointing.
Blue roses; something unique, extraordinary, and rare. That’s exactly what The Glass Menagerie is. Generally faithful to Williams’’ intentions, it is a distinct pleasure to see his words come to life. We get lost in the memory, and life is certainly a lot more different and we are forever changed when we leave it.