The Glass Menagerie

Rhys Gard
26th Oct 2014

My first encounter with The Glass Menagerie was halfway through High School.  The copy of the play I was to study paralleled the very notion of the memory play itself.  The book was old, the pages an ancient newspaper yellow, the names of students who had studied the expressionist classic in the ‘70s inscribed in the cover.

A couple of us performed sections from the play for an assignment. It was obvious, early on, the words held gravitas, the staging was complex; this was a classic, and wasn’t going to be easy. 

The play is a modern classic, the theatrical equivalent of The Great Gatsby, so I’ll forgo any kind of synopsis here. In theatre, however, ubiquity is a double-edged sword. Familiarity ensures sales, bums on seats, but also expectation. In other words: if you’re going to tackle a behemoth like The Glass Menagerie, it better be good.

It’s perhaps, for Belvoir, the perfect choice for Sydney at this time. One of the plays most famous lines, ‘In Spain there was revolution. Here there was only shouting and confusion’, certainly resonates.

Michael Hankin’s set is wonderfully period, and looks as though it could have been dropped off from the very first performance back in 1944. But it’s 2014 after all, and director Eamon Flack brings it into the 21st century with two screens and a couple of cameras littered around the outer stage. 

The two screens, displaying real-time black and white images of the cast, looking as though they could be in a 1930s film, appear at random times throughout the production.  There was sadness in the images that heightened the expressions on stage, but for me the images also signalled the loss, in recent years, of celluloid.  Tom moving around the stage and setting up the cameras is a nice touch; it reminds us that these moments – the whole play – are memories belonging to him, and that they’re often malleable, muddy, easily manipulated. 

Luke Mullins is convincing as Tom, pulling off the dispiritedness and frustration inherent in the role, and is easily the best actor on stage. Pamela Rake’s Amanda is perfectly overt and melodramatic, certainly "too much", while Rose Riley’s Laura is convincing but also occasionally confused. Where the set, lighting, music and mood shine constantly, the acting sometimes dips in intensity.

There is a lot here to love: the set and the lighting, the use of screens, the title cards all too often omitted. One of the final scenes, with Jim and Laura, is moody and immersive, reminding us of the power and weight of Williams' brooding prose. After the performance, I went home and tried to find the play I had taken from school; but the book, much like memory itself, had been lost in one of many moves. 

The Glass Menagerie remains at Belvoir for another week.

Photo: Brett Boardman 

Loading Map....
25 Belvoir Street
Surry Hills
+61 2 9699 3444