Monday, 29 September 2014

The Glass Menagerie, Belvoir

Ah, good. Belvoir's back to doing it right. Director Eamon Flack has delivered a production that draws the maximum resonance from Tennessee Williams' classic script, by playing up the memory-play aspects and getting all the emotion without, as is always the threat with Williams, going too histrionic.

The centre of this production is Luke Mullins as Tom. Even more than usual, he's a thinly disguised author substitute - his first entrance in neckerchief-and-sunglasses as a mature, swishy gentleman who guides us into the depression-era family setting. The production plays up the suggestion of images on screens in the text by having Mullins constantly stepping outside of scenes to set video cameras to capture his sister and mother in glorious black and white images, much like the movies Tom so often escapes to.

Pamela Rabe's Amanda is wonderfully, irritatingly frustrating as she attempts to arrange her children's lives, without realising just how far she's pushing them away. The production's carefully balanced so she doesn't, as some Amanda's can, ride roughshod over the rest of the play - but she is utterly real at the same time as she's hysterically funny (her dress for the second act is a particular highlight).

Rose Riley is a first timer at Belvoir - and her Laura is a revelation. Laura can be dangerous for an actress - she can be so wan and fey as to be irritating - but Riley plays her uncertainty as real and solid and desparately close to breaking through - while at the same time clearly suffering more than just physical impairment - her yowls of frustration are terrifying.

Harry Greenwood rounds out the cast as the Gentleman Caller - a fresh faced figure of fantasy and confidence who betrays a complete lack of understanding of the people around him while never-the-less making it clear why Laura would fall so completely for him and be so heartbroken by him in the final moments.

Michael Hankin's set and Mel Page's constumes capture the era gorgeously (though I'm not sure how easily the set suits people not seated in the central block - Belvoir's sight angles are not always friendly). All in all this is a spectacularly moving, funny, heartfelt production that commands the attention.