Bring on those “gay deceivers,” or false boobies, that Amanda Wingfield shoves down her daughter Laura’s dress to enhance her appeal to the imminent Gentleman Caller. How you look will make all the difference, even if you do hobble with a limp, stutter with a lisp and play imaginary games with a menagerie of glass animals.
My, how those cruel Southern manners hit home in this fine revival of Tennessee Williams’ first big success, his rite of passage drama from the shoe factory job in St Louis to the bright lights of writing 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, drooping with false finesse and overstretched gentility, while poor Laura is given a brilliant new definition in Sinéad Matthews’ bundle of nervous tics and thwarted flicker of hope; shame about the terrible wig, though, which droops like the ears on a wet spaniel.
Her great scene with the caller, Amanda’s high school hero (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, all wrapped up in the lilting, glinting poetry of Williams’ new found self-excavating expression.
And 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, which makes good use of the upper level and a sweeping traverse curtain, 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.
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