Review – The Glass Menagerie, Cambridge. That’s right – Cambridge!

Saturday 15 March 2008

Andrew went on a very daring adventure way beyond Zone 2 last night with Helen Smith. Phil, of course, didn’t.

The voyage was in honour of the Cambridge (that’s as in Cambridgeshire, not Circus) directorial début of the appallingly young Josh Seymour aka Teenage Theatrics.

Josh, who once came on a West End Whingers outing, is up (it’s called “going up”) at Cambridge and has wasted little time in getting his feet under the theatrical table, so to speak.

His choice of play was Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie which struck Helen and Andrew as ambitious and in their patronising, approaching-middle-aged in-their-prime minds they wondered if such ambition were altogether wise in one so young, particularly as the memory of Jessica Lange’s production still lingered fondly in Andrew’s memory.

But then on the journey up they confessed to each other that they don’t really know what a director does, let alone how to judge whether a production has been directed well or badly. But Andrew seemed to recall reading reviews talking about “So-and-So’s fluid direction” so they determined to look out for signs of fluidity or, failing that, thixotropy. But definitely no solids.

Arriving at the Corpus Playroom (nothing in Cambridge is straightforwardly named) Andrew and Helen were both struck with the peculiar L shape of the auditorium and gratefully made mental notes to ask Josh later how this had affected his “blocking” of the play, so as to seem informed on the matter of theatre direction.

Josh had already timidly fessed up that unallocated seating was the standard at the Corpus Playroom but – aware of the bad mood that this would kindle in Andrew’s demeanour – he wisely arranged for Andrew to have one of his lifetime’s ambitions realised – to have the best seat in the house reserved for him with a big, in-your-face, laminated sign.


Gratifyingly, by the time he and Helen took their seats, there were already people sat covetously either side of the sign. “Shall I take that away?” asked the usherette, reaching for it. “Not yet, I haven’t taken a picture of it,” protested Andrew.

However, what Josh had not admitted was that there was no bar, and what with trains and the fact that Cambridge Station is situated a 30 minute walk from anywhere you might actually want to go, Andrew and Helen arrived without time to spare and thus uniquely stone cold sober.

But on the plus side there was opportunity for refreshment afterwards because the show started bang on time at 7pm and was over by 8.35! Yes, Mr Williams’ text had seemingly been trimmed and Andrew was very impressed with this directorial choice to leave what seemed like getting on for an hour of Mr Williams’ prose on the rehearsal room floor. Or perhaps it was just the pacing.

Either way, it must be said that this acceleration was not only prudent: it was cleverly done. The play progressed fluidly (and without interval) through to the end and although it felt shorter, it didn’t feel odd or disjointed in any way.

The cast (David F Walton as Tom, Eve Rosato as Amanda, Eleanor Massie as Laura and Edward Rowett as the gentleman caller) were all excellent, not least thanks to some fluid direction from director Josh Seymour.

On the train home, Helen and Andrew reflected on the wisdom of Josh’s choice of play. The framing device (in which on Tom explains that is not only a play, but a play about memory) is an invitation not to fill the stage full of costumes, props and physical detail. This meant that the various dinner scenes could be mimed without need of troublesome crockery and cutlery and food. The only sustenance physically produced on stage was alcohol which Andrew proudly decided was a sign that the Whingers must have had some influence over the director.

The miming, it has to be said, wasn’t terribly good but then it’s an overlooked art these days. Andrew recalls vividly his childhood Saturday morning lessons at Mary Lennard’s drama class which seemed to consist mostly or possibly entirely of mime. Is it even on the curriculum of drama schools these days? Probably not. And on the basis of this evening’s performances it certainly doesn’t feature in the History (Robinson College), English and Drama with Eduction (Homerton), English (New Hall) and English (Fitzwilliam) curricula.

And that’s a good thing. On balance the West End Whingers would generally much rather see stages cluttered up with real things (as long as they don’t hold up the scene changes).

But it led Helen and Andrew to reflect on how many plays are realistically open to the 22 (yes, 22!) Cambridge drama societies.

Again, TGM scores well because three of the four characters are young.

And there are only four characters; you couldn’t fit more than about a dozen people on the Corpus Playroom stage without people having to shuffle awkwardly past each other to get on and off, so on the whole that cuts out Shakespeare and musicals.

Are plays that demand costumes and props out of the question? Helen and Andrew decided they probably were, but they hadn’t counted on the Corpus Playroom’s resources, many catalogued on the website, which put even Phil’s dressing up box to shame. Here are some of Andrew’s favourites which he is going to persuade Helen to write a play around.

6 Responses to “Review – The Glass Menagerie, Cambridge. That’s right – Cambridge!”

  1. mark I Says:

    Look at you, just making us look up thixotropy! (Although I was very pleased to be able to use xylophagous in a sentence last week! Sadly not the same sentence as crepuscular 😦 )

  2. mark I Says:

    PS when oh when will Helen manage to write the play outlined by the props above?

  3. Helen Smith Says:

    Just putting the finishing touches to it now, Mark:

    ‘Whither the Whingers’ will be a year-long devised performance inspired by The Red Shoes which imagines the Whingers and their entourage are possessed by these demonic clothes and forced to take to the stage to save their lives.

    Since they have no script, no producer, no arena in which to perform, they simply join whichever show they happen to be watching at the time. At first, theatricals live in fear of their performances being interrupted – the shiny harem pants being a particular cause for alarm – but, being troupers, and understanding what is at stake for the Whingers, they soon rally round and agree to work around the script to accommodate these gentlemen into whatever performance they interrupt. Even the Beckett Estate gives permission for these unscheduled interruptions.

    But audiences are divided – some enthralled, some enraged. Critics are at a loss to locate this in the wider discourse and try to prevent the Whingers gaining entry to theatres – leading the poor fellows to adopt ever more crazy disguises and ruses to gain entry to the theatre, before throwing off their outer garments and taking their place on stage. Hilarity ensues.

    ‘Whither the Whingers’ will be billed as the world’s first ‘theatrical continuing drama’ (i.e. a kind of soap opera) and will be performed at random and without prior notice all over the West End and in select fringe venues.

    Audiences will be advised that they have to go and see everything that’s on to have a chance of catching any of the anarchic ‘in show’ episodes of ‘Whither the Whingers’ and piece together the storyline. There will be no extra charge to audiences for these performances – beyond the initial cost of the tickets for the show – and producers will be reassured that the Whingers will perform without a fee.

  4. Josh Says:

    How momentous. My first ever review on the WEW.
    Thank you again so much for coming.

  5. Josh Says:

    P.S. The running time wasn’t due to trimming an hour of Tennessee’s words, but due to the fact we only had a 1 hr 40 timeslot and so the production had to be as pacy as possible without sacrificing any of the play’s delicacy!

    Sorry about the miming. Will do better next time.

  6. Helen Smith Says:

    It was also a joy to be reintroduced to the term ‘gay deceivers’ during the course of the play.

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