Review Round-up: Critics Fete Menagerie ClimaxDate: 19 November 2010
Tennesee Williams' award-winning “memory play” opened to at the Young Vic on Wednesday (17 November 2010, previews from 11 November), with a cast including Cranford’s Deborah Findlay, Happy-Go-Lucky’s Sinead Matthews, Leo Bill and newcomer Kyle Soller.
Directed by Young Vic deputy artistic director Joe Hill-Gibbins as part of the venue’s 40th anniversary season The Glass Menagerie sees the autobiographical struggle of Tom, a young would-be poet to support his overbearing mother, faded Southern belle Amanda, and his vulnerable, obsessive sister Laura.
The show, which continues until 1 January 2011, also features a score by Oscar and Golden Globe Award-winning composer Dario Marianelli.
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"My, how those cruel Southern manners hit home in this fine revival of Tennessee Williams’ first big success… And it’s a great strength of Joe Hill-Gibbins’ exciting production that the casting is slightly off kilter, and inauthentic, too. The play seems doubly fresh in Deborah Findlay’s steelier-than-usual Amanda… while poor Laura is given a brilliant new definition in Sinead Matthews’ bundle of nervous… shame about the terrible wig, though, which droops like the ears on a wet spaniel. Her great scene with the caller… (a superb study in vanity-charged, but soon regretted, destruction by Kyle Soller), is the centerpiece of a play that deals in dashed hopes, social aspiration and how to escape... Leo Bill’s autobiographical Tom is perhaps the most unexpected performance of all, channeling this actor’s hard comic edge into a wonderfully eloquent display of champing at the bit in the wake of a disappointing home life. A picture of the absentee father looms large on Jeremy Herbert’s loosely non-naturalistic design… as well as the moody, deliquescent music of Dario Marianelli, created on piano, percussion and a regimented menagerie of sighing wine glasses by Simon Allen and Eliza McCarthy."
"We have not been starved of productions of Tennessee Williams's famous autobiographical play. What makes this version, directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins, unusual is its fidelity to the original notion this is an expressionist piece… Everything about the production, especially Jeremy Herbert's design, bespeaks a conscious theatricality… Although Deborah Findlay is not exactly the slight figure of Williams's imagination, she captures exactly her quality of self-delusion, and is at her best where she welcomes gentleman Jim into the Wingfield menage… Sinead Matthews as the withdrawn Laura, attached to her precious collection of glass animals, also captures beautifully the quality of hope disappointed... Kyle Soller as Jim, with his belief in money and power, also perfectly conveys an outsider in a house of illusions. Leo Bill as Tom, the author's representative, catches the desperation, and Williams's own anger, at the heedlessness of 1930s America… The heart of Williams's play is exactly caught; and for that I can forgive the production's dutiful obeisance towards the gratuitous expressionist trappings."
"The scene is memory and is therefore non-realistic. Memory takes a lot of poetic license," writes Tennessee Williams in his introductory stage direction to the 1944 play that propelled him into the major league of American dramatists. Joe Hill-Gibbins takes him at his word in this magnificent production, a revival that is as conceptually fresh as it is emotionally devastating… Under harsh house lights, the Depression-era Wingfield tenement flat seems suspended in some weird rehearsal room of the mind… Throughout, there is a striking emphasis on Tom being the stage-manager of his memories… signalling for moody incidental music from the pianist and glass harmonica player on the balcony… Leo Bill captures the character's cabin fever and frantic frustration, but then all of the cast dig deep into the play's searching emotional truth. As Amanda, the domineering mother who has had to battle to bring up her children alone, Deborah Findlay conveys the suffocating oppressiveness of her ceaselessly prattling over-protection and her maddening mix of pragmatic suspicion and tyrannical fantasy… There is excruciating pathos as well as hilarious comedy here. Sinead Matthews and Kyle Soller are beyond praise in the climactic, candle-lit scene in which the fragile romantic hopes of Laura are raised and then dashed by the gentleman caller's well-meaning but ill-considered attention."
"I suppose one should pay hosannas to the claustrophobia, the detail of the psychology, the tensions between the mother and her lame daughter in this much-produced tale. Everyone else does. Myself, I have often found Menagerie heavy going… This production is pared back, without walls or backdrop. Brief shafts of music are provided by a pianist and ¬percussionist who perch on a gallery, which is also used by the actors. Deborah Findlay is on good form as Amanda. Miss Findlay is best known for playing pukka English neckclutchers, and she certainly deploys many of her customary gestures, but she adopts a terrific accent that wobbles between antebellum ‘layd-dah’ and something more threadbare and panicky… Leo Bill is another actor better known for chinless wonder Brits, but he puts his face to good use as the ferrety Tom. [Sinead ¬Matthews] delivers a mousey, stammering Laura. Kyle Soller is excellent as smiley nice-guy Jim."
"A red curtain rises, obscuring an empty stage, then revealing it peopled, like a gigantic conjurer’s box…. Joe Hill-Gibbins’ simple, honest direction and Jeremy Herbert’s design put the remembered family amid fire escapes, gantries and bare brick, accentuating the pathos of domesticity and the brave, gimcrack glitter of the sister’s “glass menagerie”…. Deborah Findlay, after a shaky start with the odd accent required of a Southerner moved north, brilliantly displays the desperation beneath the mother’s flirtatious absurdity. Kyle Soller is glib and cocky as the ambitious American dreamer planning (ah, modern irony!) a career in the newfangled television. But Sinead Matthews as Laura is the real revelation: every move, gesture and half-stammered line conveys the quiet torment of a girl who can feel deeply but not flirt lightly, yearn for love but never win because she can’t play the game…. As she blows out the candles at the end, the remembering brother far above drifts across America where “cities sweep around him like dead leaves”… Memory shines “in delicate colours, like bits of shattered rainbow”. And suddenly, his regret evokes all our lost rainbows. I could hardly see the curtain call."
"No matter how often I see The Glass Menagerie (1944), the first big success for Tennessee Williams, I cross my fingers that it will end differently… Each time I am resolutely disappointed but moved anew by Williams’s blunt reminder about the fragility of hope... Findlay, all fake smiles and desperate determination, is superbly cast as the manipulative matriarch who talks rather than listens. Bill gives a fine sense of would-be poet Tom as someone living on increasingly frayed nerves. Yet it’s Matthews and Soller who set our pulses racing when they are left alone to trace that yearning trajectory from tentativeness to hope to disillusionment… Hill-Gibbins toys cleverly with the idea of theatricality. Red velvet “theatre” curtains hover above the split-level set, which is an intriguing mixture of the naturalistic and impressionistic. Its collapsed sense of room boundaries appears like something from a dream, or maybe nightmare, refracted through the light of the tiny titular animal figurines that lonely Laura cherishes."
- Vicky Ellis