Tennessee Williams’ classic memory play, Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, opened at the Apollo Theatre last night (Tuesday 13 February 2007), starring two-time Academy Award winner Jessica Lange, Ed Stoppard, Mark Umbers and Amanda Hale.

Directed by Rupert Goold, the play tells the story of the Wingfield family, focusing on the son, Tom (Stoppard), who’s torn between the need to break away and his emotional ties with an ageing mother and a frail sister.

Overnight critics enjoyed the performances of the “uniformly excellent” cast, and were particularly impressed with Amanda Hale as Laura, whose hopes of happiness are raised and dashed in tragically quick succession. Although some felt the play took a while to get going, they all said Goold’s production did justice to Williams’ poetic writing, aided by Paul Pyant’s atmospheric lighting.

  • Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (4 stars) – “As a domestic, poetic drama with a powerful emotional lyricism it is hard to beat Tennessee Williams’s first great success, The Glass Menagerie…. Jessica Lange repeats the touching, fragile performance as Amanda she gave in New York two years ago. She is just as absurdly girlish, but I sense a new element of creeping insanity…. After ceaseless badgering, Tom brings home a ‘Gentlemen Caller’, Jim O'Connor, from work…. Their great scene together, played by candlelight, and containing Laura’s one and only brush with happiness, is the overwhelming climax of Rupert Goold’s fine production. It is played with heart-breaking candour and tenderness by Mark Umbers as Jim and stunning newcomer Amanda Hale… as Laura. Adam Cork’s evocative sound score and Paul Pyant’s quite exceptional lighting… are discreet, perfectly modulated and beautiful.”

  • Michael Billington in the Guardian (3 stars) – “In Rupert Goold's slowly developing production it takes time to realise where the true focus lies…. Lange has good touches, such as her reflex attempts to smooth down her son's hair, but her Amanda never fully inhabits her own private world. But where the evening takes off is in the celebrated scene where Laura is confronted by a gentleman-caller in the shape of a colleague Tom has brought home to dinner. This is not only Williams at his best: it also brings forth a transcendent piece of acting from Amanda Hale as Laura…. Hale makes the play Laura's story. But she is aided by the subtlety of Goold's direction which paces the climactic scene perfectly. Mark Umbers as the gentleman caller has the right blend of compassion and bruising dynamism. Ed Stoppard conveys the restlessness of the narrating Tom whose obsessive movie-going is clearly a metaphor for something darker. The evening belongs, however, to a relative newcomer who embodies the love Williams felt for his damaged, real-life sister, Rose.

  • Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (4 stars) – “Rupert Goold's dream-struck production… finally convinces me this is one of the great, unhappy family-life plays in the modern American repertoire…. The crucial scene between Mark Umbers' handsome but unhappy Jim, the gentleman caller, and Amanda Hale's superlative, bedraggled Laura, eyes downcast and body language all doleful, is played with an overpowering sense of intimacy and delicacy. In Umbers' brilliant, believable reading, the gentleman caller, engaged to a ‘homely’ girl, genuinely falls for Laura, who has long nursed a secret passion for him. She gazes at him transfixed. Having raised the girl's erotic hopes, he then comes to his senses and dashes them to pieces. Hale's face speaks tragic volumes as the might-have-been love affair fades out.… Stoppard's fine, donkey-jacketed narrator haunts the action like some baleful ghost returned home. Tom's beautifully spoken, final lament for Laura and his long-distance loneliness is surely Williams's grief for his own past. Magical.”

  • Alice Jones in the Independent (4 stars) – “Lange is suitably striking in the role, flitting, with little bird-like movements of her hand, from mollycoddling mother to self-obsessed old crone and, most memorably, a girlish coquette in the company of the gentleman caller. She is not, though, the standout performance in a uniformly excellent cast. Ed Stoppard is convincing as the narrator through whose tortured memory the action is filtered. Amanda Hale's nervy performance as Laura is as delicate as the glass animals she treasures, and beautifully contrasts with Mark Umbers' robust, strong-jawed, good-natured charm as the long-awaited gentleman caller. Rupert Goold's production takes time to get going, but once the caller's arrival is imminent it clicks into gear and builds slowly to its tragic climax…. Paul Pyant's lighting… is exquisite throughout…. As Laura blows out the candles, the feeling that all hope has been extinguished is deliciously overwhelming.”

    - by Caroline Ansdell