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The Theatreguide.London Review

The Glass Menagerie
Richmond Theatre and touring   Autumn 2015

In true Headlong fashion, Ellen McDougall has set out to confound expectations with this consistently surprising version of Tennessee Williams's semi-autobiographical tale about his claustrophobic family life as a young adult in St Louis, working in a factory but desperate to become a writer.

Her sense of adventure often grabs the eye but does not result in the most coherent interpretation of the play that might could hope to see.

The staging by Fly Davis is simple, turning the Wingfield home into little more than a black box behind a stream and the proscenium arch, while the period is later than the original mid-1940s. Judging by the costumes and musical interludes the events are taking place at least a decade later but possibly much more.

The creative team has also taken liberties in other ways. The production is accent- and colour-blind, which makes some political statements but unbalances the story-telling.

Tom Mothersdale's laid-back Tom comes far from Missouri and is overtly camp in a very 21st century manner, which can be amusing and makes his behaviour accessible to a modern audience.

Greta Scacchi plays his mother Amanda as even more hectoring than usual but somewhere along the way, loses the hauteur that is usually the former Southern Belle's most striking characteristic.

Playing her daughter Laura, Erin Doherty deploys an accent different from both family members, wears an oversized shoe to draw attention to her infirmity and conveys desperate shyness well, especially in the presence of the handsome, relaxed Gentleman Caller, Jim O’Connor.

Shockingly cast in that Irish Catholic role is Eric Kofi Abrefa, who delivers a fine performance but also asks too many questions about Southern attitudes to racial discrimination in the era when the play was written and first performed.

In doing so, his presence as an Afro-American working colleague and former school friend of Tom's draws the attention away from its already powerful message about the sad difficulties that Laura faces.

The crippled young woman is so lonely and shy that her only real solace is The Glass Menagerie, which is symbolically wrecked along with her slim hopes of a happy future, which her desperate, pushy mother yearns for with vicarious vigour.

At the party, the costumes really challenge viewers, especially those worn by the ladies. Laura resembles a pantomime fairy or injured ballerina, while Amanda is kitted out like a rather ramshackle fairy godmother or, possibly one of the Ugly Sisters.

The likelihood is that audiences, especially younger ones, will respond to a production that sets out to be lively and open, even if they might wonder about its great divergence from the playwright's intentions and the messages Tennessee Williams thought that he was conveying.

Philip Fisher

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Review - The Glass Menagerie - Richmond  Theatre 2015

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