The Glass Menagerie at Arcola Theatre review

PUBLISHED: 16:53 04 June 2019

The Glass Menagerie at Arcola Theatre. Picture: Idil Sukan.

The Glass Menagerie at Arcola Theatre. Picture: Idil Sukan.

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Trying to unpick the qualities that have elevated Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie to the status of fabled modern classic is a tricky exercise.

The Glass Menagerie at Arcola Theatre. Picture: Idil Sukan.The Glass Menagerie at Arcola Theatre. Picture: Idil Sukan.

After all, the bare bones of the story are rather ordinary - not something exceptional at all.

And yet somehow, Williams' acute survey of longstanding loneliness and lost love justifies its formidable reputation.

Arcola Theatre's new iteration is directed by Femi Elufowoju jr and he ushers the audience into a working-class black household in St Louis in 1937.

A house where an imposing portrait hangs over the dining room table of absconding Mr Wingfield - a father and husband who disappeared when the going got tough. But be warned: this is a subjective account, as recounted through the memory of his son Tom Wingfield (Michael Abubakar): factory worker by day, cinema goer by night and budding poet at all other times in between.

The Glass Menagerie at Arcola Theatre. Picture: Idil Sukan.The Glass Menagerie at Arcola Theatre. Picture: Idil Sukan.

Tom's mother, Amanda (Lesley Ewen), is as brash and domineering as she is well-meaning. As the loquacious matriarch of the residence she fondly recalls former dalliances with 'gentlemen callers' and admires her one-time golden touch with entertaining such folk.

Now as the years have advanced her main preoccupation has shifted to ensuring that her daughter Laura is able to find a man with whom to settle down.

The thing is, the task is not an easy one. Laura (Naima Swaleh) is impaired by a leg injury since childhood and is painfully shy. When Tom finds a colleague to visit for dinner in the form of Irish-American Jim (Charlie Maher), all eyes are on Laura and how she reacts to this charismatic guest.

The timeless themes that percolate within this piece are brought to life brilliantly through a classy stage design, judicious stage direction and utterly flawless performances that almost rattle the theatre walls with their full-blooded, kinetic relay.

Although you would like to observe that gender politics have moved on from the constraints of obligation and expectation of thirties America, the fundamental aspects of human yearning in this work resonate still.

The allure of Williams' breakthrough play is executed with aplomb in this fine, and explosive, version.

Rating: 4/5 Stars.

Continues until Saturday, July 13. More details and tickets here.

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