A precious piece [by Matt Baker]
The Glass Menagerie is a magical play. From the opening Brechtian monologue, to the blatant symbolism and dialogue surrounding the titular menagerie, playwright Tennessee Williams does not shy away from using a light theatrical shroud to expose truths. It would be easy to rely on these conventions and consequentially not find the true weight in his writing, but Auckland Theatre Company’s production of The Glass Menagerie is a beautiful blend.
Edwin Wright sets a wonderful pace for the play and continues to push through with a strong internal drive. He also finds a great amount of humour in Tom’s sardonic wit. Once the trap is set and Amanda really has something to play with, Elizabeth Hawthorne shines with total southern abandon. Hawthorne finds all the colours and tones to her vocals, and turns her words to flesh, a reminder to all actors that, according to Peter O’Toole, eighty percent of what an actor does is with their voice.
Antonia Prebble takes on what could be considered the most difficult role in the play, in that Laura could be easily distanced from the audiences’ empathy with too much ‘poor me’ acting. To counteract this, Prebble is slightly showy, but ironically maintains an equal amount of theatricality to her co-stars. The limp comes and goes, but the innate nature of Laura is always there.
Richard Knowles endears himself to the audience with great charm and confidence, especially when working with Prebble, and has an incredibly subtle play against, which keeps us always wondering what’s behind the sparkle in his smile. The intimacy he and Prebble generate is beautiful to watch, and at times I found myself forgetting I was in a theatre with 300 other people.
Set designer John Parker makes great use of the revolve, operated by Natalie Braid, and the warehouse crates and barred window give a good sense of the claustrophobic world in which Tom lives. The lighting (Bonnie Burril), sound (Adrian Hollay), and video (Simon Barker) designs are intriguing in the fact that while most of the time they enhance the on-stage drama, there are times when they seem almost too melodramatic. However, this is more than likely due to the lack of subtlety in their fades, as the sentimentality they induce is explained in Tom’s opening monologue. With a practical application of props (a pity the smoking wasn’t allowed due to obvious reasons) from Natasha Pearl, I do wonder why the food and dishes were left to mime – poorly, as it were.
Accents are generally good, though certain middle and back placed Kiwi vowels come through sporadically. Williams is one of my favourite playwrights and The Glass Menagerie is one of my favourite plays, and I found myself exploring it in a very new way. Based on his biography, there seems to be no one more qualified to direct than Jef Hall-Flavin, and it is obvious that his actors have complete faith in his abilities in the role. Nothing is forced, and there is great confidence in this production, but it is never egocentric, always maintaining a modest southern mentality.
* Air conditioning seems to be a featured extra in the theatre – dress warmly.
The Glass Menagerie is presented by Auckland Theatre Company and plays at Selywn Theatre until 8 June. Details see ATC.