Review – The Glass Menagerie

Wednesday 7 February 2007

Glass MenagerieThis last week has been an exhausting one for the West End Whingers. One Sondheim, half a Chekhov and a pair of Pinters took their collective toll on Andrew who by last night was beginning to go down with the sniffles.

Clutching a tissue to his nose, he complained he must have picked something up from last night’s Seagull – a touch of avian flu, perhaps?

But ever-the-trouper and determined (unlike many of today’s so-called stars) to turn up to every performance, Andrew raised himself from his sick bed to join Phil and would-be whinger David to a see Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, previewing at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue. Could Dr Theatre’s curative powers work for as well for an audience member as the thespians claim it does for them?

In a St Louis apartment erstwhile southern belle Amanda Wingfield (Jessica Lange) lives in reduced circumstances with her children. Son Tom spends his days working in a warehouse to support the family and his evenings escaping at the movies. His painfully shy “cripple” sister Laura spends her time playing the phonograph and tending to her collection of delicate glass animals. So far, so symbolic, so Tennessee Williams.

Amanda is desperate to secure her daughter’s welfare by finding her a suitor and cajoles Tom into finding a “gentleman caller” for Laura, reminiscing about her own glorious youth when she received seventeen callers in one afternoon. The whingers sat up at this point.

After a decidedly dodgy start with problems of audibility (even from the second row of the stalls the whingers were struggling to hear Lange) things started to pick up midway through the first act and although she lacked some of the vulnerability and sheer barminess* the whingers were expecting, once into her stride her naturalistic performance completely won us over.

No such problems out of the starting block for Ed Stoppard whose fine portrayal of Tom is compelling from the start.

By the end of the first act all three of us were engrossed, but nothing prepared us for what was to come in the astonishing second act.

The first treat was the scene in which Lange – dressed up in faded finery from her days as a southern belle – reverts to her flirtatious youth as she entertains the gentleman caller (Mark Umbers). Lange (under-)plays the scene with a lightness of touch which makes her former life totally believable – no grotesquery here. And it’s a testament to her performance that the whingers – who will always opt for “grotesque” if there’s a choice – were enthralled.

But even this is completely overshadowed by the mesmerising candlelit scene between the gentleman caller and newcomer Amanda Hale‘s credibly fragile Laura. This very long, quiet and moving scene was utterly engrossing with actors giving quite extraordinary performances.

Hale has few credits in the programme notes and is quite a find. If the whingers had hearts, they would surely have been as broken as a glass unicorn by her. If Amanda Hale doesn’t win a “best newcomer” award in the next round of gongs, the whingers will eat their hats – including the ostrich feathers.

Credit must also be given to director Rupert Goold for the restraint and naturalism he applies to Williams’ play.

Andrew believes that designer Matthew Wright‘s set is one of the most carefully designed he has ever seen on the stage. It has a touch of Magritte about it and a domestic echo of the proscenium. The vertical dimension of the fire escape provides effective visual expressions of the “rock bottom” in which the family is trapped and Tom’s desire to escape. It’s all atmospherically lit by Paul Pyant to express the “memory” theme of the play.

Phew.

Regular readers will know that the whingers like their evenings at the theatre to be on the short side in order to not break into their drinking time. But even though The Glass Menagerie scuppered their hopes of a post show drink at 2 hours 50 minutes, (half an hour longer than the estimated running time) for once they weren’t complaining. In fact Andrew had all but forgotten his malady. Clearly Dr Theatre was in the house; this production is a tonic.

* As good as Lange is, the programme notes tell of the brilliant original Amanda, Laurette Taylor whose career was in sharp decline after a glorious past. “Famously alcoholic, eccentric and rather grand” and the inspiration for Judith Bliss in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever. The pre-New York try out was apparently delayed after she went missing on a bender. The whingers drank a toast to her memory.

A thumbs up for The Glass Menagerie

Two thumbs-up from the West End Whingers

Financial footnotes

  • There was a bit of a kerfuffle at the theatre bar in the interval when the whingers were charged an astonishing £20.20 for three glasses of wine. It turned out that the price of the “full-bodied” glass they had been offered was £7 so they sent that back and decanted the two remaining glasses into three cups to share between them. Shame on you Nimex Theatres.
  • Compare this with the bargain £22 or so they paid for their second row stalls seats at the TKTS booth on Leicester Square. Our gain was the production’s loss. The Whingers had originally tried to buy 11 tickets for a group outing (group tickets being £25 each) but on phoning to book had been told that these were not available during the previews. In spite of our protests that this restriction was not stated on the website, Mr Kenwright’s representatives turned down our offer to hand them over £225 in ready cash. No wonder it’s so hard to make money in the West End.

9 Responses to “Review – The Glass Menagerie”

  1. SHAZ/MICHAEL Says:

    Reading this, I’m definitely on my way to the Apollo. And congrats for the note about the bar prices – so often a rip-off and, in this instance, a robbery.
    And as for the bulk booking – I hope the box office staff get the push.
    A sometime West End Winger & ever an OAP one.


  2. Thanks Shaz and Michael. Please let us know what you think. Feel free to whinge on this site any time; it’s the only language we understand.


  3. Andrew – appreciate the review from the blogosphere, and interesting to compare notes given that another “Glass Menagerie” just opened on the other side of the pond.

    After reading through most of your recent entries, I think I’ve finally found a London theatre site worth linking to. Thanks so much!


  4. Bravo, WEW! True to your calling, when you can’t whinge about the production there’s always the bar prices (and a well-placed whinge that was too). I will certainly try to snag tickets when I come over next month and recommend it all my friends planning on pilgrimages prior to 19 May. Jessica Lange’s performance was not well (or fairly, I should have thought) received on this side of the pond last season and I was talked out of going; there is a New York tendency with respect to movie & television stars on stage to trash first and look second. While this is often deserved it isn’t a universal truth. And the fact that some of the stars have had ample stage training and experience prior to trodding the tinsel is often lost in the shuffle. It sounds as though the British cast was a distinct improvement on the American in several respects in any event. I was also taken with the WEW citation of the program note on Laurette Taylor. There was a lovely documentary that circulated a few years ago called “The Golden Age of Broadway” in which a slew of the great actors of the forties, fifties and sixties were asked to name the greatest performance they ever so on stage and an astounding number responded with Taylor as Amanda. I think that generation of actors enjoyed their drop far more (and far more frequently) than the subsequent one and that natural sympathy may have colored their judgement, but one saw an audition she gave and his reaction, watching from the back of the house, was “Who is this woman? Did she just wander in from the street? She wasn’t acting at all. Just being.” Apparently the effect was mesmerizing.


  5. […] Just as they can’t resist a good offer, they also can’t help sharing them with others. Beady-eyed as ever, they’ve see an interesting one for the almost sublime production of Tennessee Williams’ classic The Glass Menagerie at the Apollo Theatre. […]


  6. […] Update: Andrew reports that Radio 4’s Front Row  covered the story tonight with phone-in comments from critics Michael Coveney, Charles Spencer and Nicholas De Jongh. Spencer thought it was taking a “sledgehammer to a nut” but De Jongh’s line was that it was long overdue and muttered grumpily about having his words misused by Bill Kenwright’s publicity team , accusing them of taking three words that he used separately to describe the production and Tennessee Williams, and implying that they all referred to Jessica Lange. […]

  7. webcowgirl Says:

    Wow, I actually didn’t like this – mostly because of the son’s performance and the “I don’t have to do anything besides sit here and be famous” job Ms. Lange did. I wonder if it lost its magic three months further in from when you saw it? In my mind, it was a brilliant play ruined by poor casting – other than the daughter, who was great.


  8. […] at The Glass Menagerie in this very theatre, the Whingers had commented on the huge prices charged for their beverage of […]


  9. […] the original post here: Review – The Glass Menagerie « West End Whingers Related Posts:Review – Oliver Meech: Live Brain Surgery … – West End Whingers Ah, the […]


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