As we entered and seated ourselves in the Selwyn Theatre, there sat onstage, a figure smoking a cigarette whilst routinely hitting what looked like hard liquor. This lurking character turned out to be protagonist and narrator Tom Wingfield who seamlessly introduced the audience to a play about memory; namely, the memories of his mother Amanda and his sister Laura. In his opening soliloquy, Tom offers the audience some advance warning about a story that is burdened by delusions:
“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket; I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”
PHOTO: Michael Smith – Richard Knowles and Antonia Prebble in the Auckland Theatre Company production of The Glass Menagerie
Written by Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie first premiered in Chicago in 1944 and is set in St. Louis during the depression years of the 1930s. The Glass Menagerie is woven with tragedy and impatience but balanced by a healthy thread of humour and pragmatism. The main conflict resides between the frustrated romantic Tom Wingfield, played by Edwin Wright, and his domineering but devoted mother Amanda who is performed brilliantly by Elizabeth Hawthorne. Caught between the family feuding is the delicate Laura, played by Antonia Prebble. A character, who despite her disabling limp and acute shyness, remains the nucleus of the narrative.
Without this turning into a plot summary and/or to avoid the risk of being a spoiler-jerk, this is a play that the avid theatre goer should definitely get along to. With a running time of two and a half hours (20 minute interval), I was nervous my lack of theatre hours would be exposed forcing a decision between endurance and retreat. Turns out that I loved it. I became so engrossed in each character’s performance that time was made redundant. Conversely, time finds a thematic residence in the story and is representative of the greater melancholy that surrounds the play. A theme to which Tom muses, “Time is the greatest distance between two places”. To sum up, this play will make you laugh, though ultimately, you will leave sad…but in an appreciative kind of way.
The Glass Menagerie is presented by the Auckland Theatre Company and runs until the 8 June. The first seven shows have sold out so the get in there quick!!
Reviewed by Ben Blackman