The Glass Menagerie at the Duke of York’s Theatre
It’s a pretty good time to be John Tiffany. Days after winning a Critics’ Circle Award for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the director’s much-lauded version of The Glass Menagerie finally arrives in London, complete with a West End debut for Cherry Jones.
Her Amanda is the quintessential pushy stage mother, only with hopes of fame and glory swapped out for stability and normality. In the hands of Tiffany and the magnificent Jones the character is a figure of frantic, overbearing love and regret. There is one heartbreaking moment early in the second act where Amanda, clothed in a dress of pure Southern extravagance, stands behind Laura, her face falling as she once again recalls how the promises of youth failed to materialise. It is the fear this will happen to her daughter that drives her to ask her son Tom to find a “gentleman caller”; yet these good intentions are warped by the fact that Amanda pities rather than respects Laura, who she sees as a problem to be solved.
Jones has rightly earned rave reviews for her role as Williams’s matriarch. However, her star in no way outshines her colleagues. Michael Esper’s Tom froths with frustration in the presence of his mother, before becoming almost wistful in his narration. Kate O’Flynn and Brian J Smith, meanwhile, are enchanting as Laura and her would be suitor respectively. Their long, warm conversation is the standout of the entire production, a marriage of tender, compassionate writing and unfussy direction. O’Flynn’s Laura, who nervously trills like a strangled bird, blossoms in front of her visitor, whom Smith plays as the embodiment of sincerity. He treats Laura as person and not a source of motherly pity or brotherly protection, allowing joy to seep into the younger Wingfield for the first time.
The few pieces of furniture that make up Bob Crowley’s set are permanently on the verge of being submerged by darkness, like memories threatening to blink out of existence. Working with regular colleague Steven Hoggett, Tiffany then uses the transitions between each scene for dreamlike interludes of choreographed movement, scored by the melancholy strings of Nico Muhly. These moments don’t quite come off, however. In a play that already contains Tom’s florid narration and a constant swell of sentimentality these flashes of semi-interpretive dance feel like overkill.
Without meaning to damn with faint praise, Tiffany’s The Glass Menagerie is simply a classy run-out for a classic slice of the American canon, an excuse for four fabulous actors to dust-off the delicate world of Williams’s semi-autobiographical memories.
Photo: Johan Persson
The Glass Menagerie is at the Duke of York’s Theatre from 26th January until 29th April 2017. Book your tickets here.