Glass Menagerie


by Tennessee Williams

Director: Jef Hall-Flavin

The PWC Season presented by the Auckland Theatre Company at Selwyn Theatre, Kohimarama, Auckland Until 8 Jun 2013

Reviewed by Kate Ward-Smythe, 19 May 2013

Jef Hall-Flavin directs his talented cast with detailed elegance and great care, as an assured team of creatives make positive use of the wider stage and setting of The Glass Menagerie's unanticipated venue, The Selwyn Theatre.

Edwin Wright's Tom Wingfield is astutely judged, revealing just the right amount of burden and frustration, quietly simmering in the prologue, building into inevitable outburst and drunkenness. Wright plays him with excellent conviction throughout, as Tom struggles more and more to keep it together in his closeted life. Richard Knowles takes full advantage of the hope and optimism for a brighter future that Tennessee Williams injects into Jim O'Connor, delivering an intelligent portrayal of the likable, yet slightly too enthusiastic man.

It is easy to be draw into Antonia Prebble's achingly timid and awkward Laura Wingfield. Her performance is captivating, as she tip-toes on egg shells around her mother, then relaxes in the comfort of her loving sibling Tom, then slowly overcomes her painful shyness enough to finally dialogue with her gentleman caller, Jim. Prebble and Knowles are particularly engaging together, as he finishes sentences for her, and she says so much with a simple well timed, “oh”. It is simply a wonderful scene.

Elizabeth Hawthorne as faded Southern Belle and overbearing mother, Amanda Wingfield, is right at home in the role, missing no opportunity to control, dominate and relish the limelight. It is a finely formed and impressive performance, from the start.

John Parker's revolving set design captures the cramped conditions of the Wingfield's apartment, yet the changing angles allow us a variety of interesting perspectives into the singular space. With his palette of faded beige and sepia, Parker also captures the confusion, depression and lost opportunities that defined so much of America in the 1930s.

Costume designer Elizabeth Whiting adopts similar appropriate tones, then pulls out all the stops with two fabulous frocks, fitting for the all-important occasion of the gentlemen caller. Laura's baby blue satin dress shows the young lady as innocent, yet divine and Jim's chartreuse Dick Tracey Suit is wonderfully dapper, yet slightly overstated, just like the recently empowered Jim. Like Amanda herself, her outfit from her hey-days is busy, full of frills, bows and completely overstated.

Bonnie Burrill's debut for ATC as Lighting Designer is a triumph. Dappled light, dimly lit corners and long shadows, evoke the jaded daily routine of the Wingfield's impoverished life, devoid of brightness and colour. She peppers this drab world with simple details that say so much, such as the prism of light created by wannabe-poet Tom, at the top of the show.

While many of Video Designer Simon Barker's projections are smoothly captivating – such as the bleak factory floor backdrop, and the oversized portrait of the deserting dad (which slowly reduces in appearance then fades in and out of the narrative) – at other times, the projection work is a tad gratuitous. I'm not sure the pre-show projections, which include words and phrases (such as the title of the play) on boxes scattered around stage, add much to the audience's experience. Perhaps they are supposed to be Tom's scribbles from the factory floor but personally, they left me more confused than intrigued. In the same way, projections that mirror the narrative exactly, can feel obvious, even redundant.

Similarly, while much of Adrian Hollay's very pleasing Sound Design sets mode and scene beautifully – such as the atmospheric audio as we walk in and incidental music throughout – overall, there is so much supporting audio that the text and the performances are seldom allowed to simply speak for themselves. Too much of a good thing?

There are a couple of moments in the overall direction that feel very anomalous to me. First, so much care is taken with the authenticity and style of the furniture and props, such as the transistor radio and gramophone, that I find it odd that the opening meal plus the all-important supper are mimed.

Likewise, with so many audio offerings, even to the point of a pre-recorded cheesy ‘Disney-like' sound effect when Tom refers to a ‘magic scarf', it seems very peculiar to therefore direct Tom to provide his own (vocalized) ‘door bell' when he brings gentleman caller Jim home for supper.

Put these small personal matters to one side and, overall, this is a stylish production of a timeless Southern classic that is well worth the drive to the Eastern Suburbs.