Glass Menagerie Rose Theatre review

Review: The Glass Menagerie, Rose Theatre

Review: The Glass Menagerie, Rose Theatre


A vast neon sign above the stage reads Paradise, but below it is clear that life for the Wingfield family in Tennessee Williams’ semi-autobiographical play is anything but.

The sign revolves as the story unfolds on stage, and what a heart-breaking tale it is.

Amanda Wingfield (Geraldine Somerville) is a Southern belle whose husband has abandoned the family some years previously. Her children are now young adults and she is obsessed with keeping her son on a path away from drink, while finding a ‘gentleman caller’ for her shy and ‘crippled’ daughter.

The son Tom (Kasper Hilton-Hille) works in a warehouse and to make up for his monotonous job and the confines of the small apartment they all share, he lives his life through trips to the movies. He also writes poems in secret. The Paradise sign we see is from the nightclub nearby, a reminder perhaps of the life they are missing.

The mother’s strength and downfall is her love for her children. She wants the best for them, and yet repels by trying to force them into the life she wishes for her family. Watching her, you sympathise – her instinct is for survival, they need the money the son brings in; the daughter, Laura (Natalie Kimmerling) has been enrolled at business school but her severe social anxiety got the better of her so her future depends on finding a husband.

Amanda persuades the son to bring home a friend from work so that her daughter will have a gentleman caller at last.

Laura is initially reluctant to meet Jim (Zacchaeus Kayode), especially when she realises she liked him at school, he remembers her, too. She describes how she came into class late because of the sound her leg brace made.

There is the most beautiful and emotional pep talk he gives to Laura about her lack of confidence. But there is a misunderstanding – and the consequences on the family are huge. It’s mesmerising to watch, and all of the cast do an incredible job of drawing you into these characters.

The stage is a simple round plinth, with Laura’s collection of glass animals placed around the perimeter. The only set change is the addition of bright yellow flowers, which remind the mother of her heyday when she had countless gentleman callers and would pick so many of these flowers in her gaiety that there weren’t enough vases to contain them all. The contrast is stark.

Everything is very minimal. The lights glow, atmospheric candles are used when the lights go off (the son has not paid their bill), and the only other big effect is offered by two microphones on either side of the stage, which are used by the characters to amplify certain sections – this works brilliantly when the mother is working in her job trying to get readers to renew their magazine subscriptions and adds some humour.

The minimalism for the most part works – however, the glass animals are very small so they are difficult for the audience to see they are there. While they reflect Laura’s delicate nature, more could be made of them in the staging. When Jim picks up her treasured unicorn and holds it to the light, it could reflect across the stage, perhaps.

The play is set in the 1930s and the language, manners and attitudes are firmly rooted there. In this interpretation, the children wear jeans and trainers, Laura retreats from the world with headphones and Whitney Houston’s One Moment In Time can be heard blasting out. It adds to the dream-like feel of the piece but feels a little incongruous.

Nevertheless, there is the most wonderful dance scene, Dirty Dancing style, to the song. It is hugely impressive and visually stunning as Laura whirls around the stage in her bright tulle dress. The dance sequence is in her imagination, we then see the real dance between her and Jim, much more subdued, shy, but tender and incredibly moving to watch.

Exploring themes of duty, loneliness, love, and how life can fall far short of people’s dreams, it is a powerfully sad and raw piece, and yet it never feels relentlessly so. Just incredibly human.


A Rose Theatre, Alexandra Palace Theatre, and Belgrade Theatre production
in association with the Royal Exchange Theatre. Directed by Atri Banerjee

Until 4 May, Rose Theatre

Then touring:

Bristol Old Vic — 7-11 May

Theatre Royal Bath — 13-18 May

Alexandra Palace — 22 May-1 June