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Delicate & Perfect - Octagon's Glass Menagerie

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Yesterday afternoon, I got to see The Octagon Theatre's perfect production of Tennessee Williams' classic The Glass Menagerie. Having seen three different productions previously, you would imagine there is nothing more to see. Wrong.

Jessica Lange, Imogen Stubbs and Brenda Blethyn all nailed the role of Amanda Wingfield and each bought their own unique interpretation. Lange perfected the fading Southern belle, so much - that she became the definitive version for me. Until now, that is. Because, in spite of these gifted actresses' efforts, I had never really felt much sympathy or empathy for Amanda.

True, she was desperate to match her daughter to a gentleman caller but her nit-picking and micro-management of her children has always irritated me (I see elements of my own family there, maybe?) more than it endeared me. I could see the motivation but always felt she entered the world of the caricature. Here though - Margot Leicester brings out the humour of the piece with ease. She also conveys Amanda's motivation with such conviction that you are moved to tears. She is a selfless character - because if she finds Laura a suitor, she is destined to be lonely. If she doesn't, they are both in that boat - drifting, aimlessly.

Kieran Hill gives you the hope that you need as the Gentleman Caller and even though I knew the ending, he filled me the sense that things could turn around for this desperate family. Nathan Wiley makes a stunning stage debut as Tom - look out for him, as he's magnetic here. Fiona Hampton is fragile, poised and frightened, like a baby bird that has been abandoned by it's mother. Four amazing performances here - pure perfection.

David Thacker's direction allows the actors to breathe and as a result, this is the finest Tennessee Williams' production I have seen in years. If you know the play, embrace this, as there is still more to see. If you are new to the piece - book a ticket, as the poignancy, perfectly pitched performances and heartfelt humour will break you and leave you thinking about the play for days afterwards.

The Glass Menagerie is at the Bolton Octagon until 20 April.


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