This week saw my second outing to Mold to see another play by Tennessee Williams.
We are automatically told at the start of the play that The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, it is the memories that the narrator Tom Wingfield has had over a period of time, and this is his story that he is telling, from his point of view.
The family is on stage, in the dark, as the audience find their seats. They are being watched by Tom, and at first you think it's just a mannequin, before you see him occasionally move. This adds to the drama of the piece; because the set is very simple, we concentrate on the characters rather than the props. Tom starts the play by informing the audience that he is the opposite of a stage magician. "He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you the truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."
Rhys Meredith performed the role of Tom with great compassion. The story centres on four lost souls, but the play is not overly sentimental. The characters are frustrated in their own ways about their own things, but they do care for each other. It is this normality that makes us want to care for them too and the two hours that the plays runs for feels like minutes as we venture on a rollercoaster of emotions with the various family members..
Tom wants to be a poet, however, because his father left home, leaving Tom with a mother and sister to look after, he has had to take a job in the local shoe warehouse. His mother, Amanda, constantly tells her grown up children tales from her youth, when she was a young girl, and so pretty that all of the men near her wanted to court her! Tom makes it clear he has heard this tale many times before, but his mother continues, back to the time when she was happy. Rosamund Shelley in the role of Amanda manages to play the role so that we feel sorry for her as she reflects upon her past, but then as she becomes increasingly over domineering, the audience begins to dislike her almost as much as her children do.
Amanda is a matriarch disappointed with her children. She is unhappy that her daughter, Laura, has had to wear a leg brace, and is too shy to attract men and that her son finds comfort in films and drink, his mother can not understand or condone his behaviour and therefore constantly berates him. Amanda is disappointed to learn that due to Laura's chronic shyness, she has dropped out of college, preferring to wander around the park and museums all day than come home and face her mother's wrath. Amanda decides the only way her daughter can secure her future is if she is married. Her mother therefore starts selling magazine subscriptions in order to earn more money to encourage male suitors to visit. Amanda also discusses her fears for Laura with Tom and asks him if there is anyone suitable where he works.
A memorable play with moving performances
Tom brings home a friend from his work, and it turns out it is someone Laura had had a crush on when she was at school. Again her shyness forces her away from this friend, Jim O'Connor. Jim however is a patient young man, who earns Laura's trust, and he manages to draw out some self-confidence from Laura as they discuss the past, and the fact he used to nickname her Blue Roses at school (because he misheard her when she said she'd been off sick with Pleurosis).
Laura played by Eiry Thomas, has a collection of glass animal figurines (the glass menagerie) and in one of the frequent fights between Tom and Amanda some of the animals are broken. We are transfixed by this isolated character, and as Laura and Jim become friendlier we are hopeful that she will have a happy ending and that love will blossom. Laura shows her prized unicorn figuerine to Jim, but as they are dancing Jim accidentally breaks it. Swept up in the moment he kisses Laura, then immediately pulls away and confirms he has a serious girlfriend. Resigned Laura give him the broken unicorn as a momento. Amanda is devastated that her plan to marry off Laura has failed, and shouts at Tom, telling him he must have known about Jim's engagement. Tom leaves and tells the audience he has been caught at work writing poetry and been fired. As he no longer has a job he leaves Amanda and Laura behind to start his own life, although it is obvious that he feels guilty at leaving his sister and doesn't forget her.
The Glass Menagerie is based on many events in Williams' own life. His father drank heavily and the family had to keep on the move. It was recorded that they moved sixteen times in ten years. Tennessee (born Thomas Williams) and his sister Rose were close, and both were ostracised at school. He took solace by going to the cinema and writing, and he gained a place at university reading journalism. His father however forced him to leave school and work at the same shoe factory that he worked at. Rose suffered from mental illness and led to her having a lobotomy. The lobotomy was a disaster and she ended up being in care for the rest of her life. The Glass Menagerie was Williams's first really successful play, followed up by A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He had many bouts of depression and slipped into alcohol and drug dependence and was found dead at the age of 71 at the Elysee Hotel in New York.