Within minutes of being seated in the Dunstan Playhouse, a cold, dim, enclosed stage transforms into a warm, glowing, open family room. Faint music and murmurs echo in the background. It is as if we are watching the visualisation of someone’s memory unfold.
South Australian State Theatre Company brings us a visually beautiful production of a classic old American tragedy by Tennessee Williams.The Glass Menagerie tells the story of a broken and dysfunctional family in St. Louis, Missouri. Narrated by Tom Wingfield (Anthony Gooley), the play is his recollection of the Wingfield family’s experiences over the winter and spring of 1937.
Tom is conflicted between supporting his family and leaving the suffocating embrace of his mother, Amanda (Deidre Rubenstein) and his shy, crippled sister, Laura (Kate Cheel). Laura, delicate like the figurines in her glass menagerie, lacks the confidence to succeed in the outside world. Her mother dreams that she might one day follow in her footsteps and entertain ‘gentleman callers’ to avoid winding up a “barely-tolerated spinster”.
The nostalgic and ornate picture book set, by designer Victoria Lamb, and lit by Mark Pennington, fits with the feeling of the memory narrative. “Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic,” Tom tells the audience.
“In memory everything seems to happen to music,” he elaborates. Stuart Day’s composition flows through the story effortlessly. It is thematic, at times, with music from the nearby Paradise Dance Hall drifting in and out, representing Tom’s desire for freedom and Laura’s longing for normality.
Williams referred to The Glass Menagerie as the saddest play he had ever written. However, it is also fantastically funny; Amanda’s biting wit and Tom’s scathing sarcasm combined make for compelling dialogues. The writing is exquisite, poetic and symbolic and delivered with perfect timing and emphasis by the actors.
In the second act, the tension and intrigue builds when a mysterious character joins the family room. Jim O’Connor (Nic English), a ‘gentleman caller,’ represents success and normality – qualities the Wingfields lack. Nic English and Kate Cheel’s performances towards the end of this act are moving and deeply emotive.
Artistic Director, Adam Cook, has done justice to this old classic memory play, as his final production in his role for the State Theatre Company of South Australia.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
The State Theatre of South Australia presents
The Glass Menagerie
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Adam Cook
Designer: Victoria Lamb
Composer: Stuart Day
Stage Manager: Bridget Samuel
Assistant Stage Manager: Kat Braun
Voice and Dialect coach: Simon Stollery
Performed by Kate Cheel, Nic English, Anthony Gooley and Deidre Rubenstein
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre May 4 – 26