The Glass Menagerie

Theatre, Drama Duke of York’s Theatre , Covent Garden Monday April 24 2017 - Saturday April 29 2017
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(16user reviews)
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 (© Johan Persson)
1/4
© Johan Persson

Cherry Jones and Michael Esper

 (© Johan Persson)
2/4
© Johan Persson

Brian J. Smith, Cherry Jones and Michael Esper

 (© Johan Persson)
3/4
© Johan Persson

Cherry Jones and Kate O'Flynn

 (© Johan Persson)
4/4
© Johan Persson

Kate O'Flynn

John Tiffany's stunning Tennessee Williams' revival

Interview: John Tiffany on 'Harry Potter and The Cursed Child', 'The Glass Menagerie', and *that* owl incident

What does ‘make America great again’ mean, exactly? Because if it involved a return to the US’s mid-twentieth century dramatic zenith – when its playwrights were easily the best the world – I could actually probably get on board. 

Tennessee Williams’s breakthrough 1945 drama ‘The Glass Menagerie’ is the original ‘memory play’, in which jaded protagonist Tom (Michael Esper) wistfully recalls his long gone family: his formidable mother Amanda (Cherry Jones) and his frail, damaged sister Laura (Kate O’Flynn). 

John Tiffany’s production – finally making it to London after runs in New York and Edinburgh – is deceptively simply staged, but also infused with all the magic that the Harry Potter director and team can bring to bear. The action - with its movement stylised by regular Tiffany collaborator Steven Hoggett - takes place in an inky void, a couple of rooms in a St Louis tenement surrounded by obsidian pools of water (by designer Bob Crowley) and haunted by Nico Muhly's eerily beautiful score. 

They blend to give it an extraordinary, dreamlike feel, halfway between hope and terror, innocence and despair, nostalgia and obliteration. The ambience reminds me somewhat of the David Lynch's heady ‘Twin Peaks’. But it is more than just a box of director's tricks. Esper in exemplary as narrator Tom: existing in both the past (the play is set in 1939) and the present, he is wracked with guilt and irritation at the family he abandoned.

His most complicated feelings are reserved for the overwhelming Amanda – far from one of Williams’s usual frail cracked Southern belles, Broadway star Jones virtuosically plays her as a loving woman whose nurturing instincts have gone too far, suffocating her children.

And sole Brit O'Flynn is fantastic as Laura, picking out the most delicate of paths between tragedy and comedy as her crippling shyness threatens to disperse when a brief, beautiful chance of escape is proffered to her by Brian J Smith's unexpectedly charming Gentleman Caller. Many productions suggest she has no chance – Tiffany’s is generous enough to show us a vision of another world where she might have been happy.

And that’s the key: other productions of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ tend to be sour or cynical, but for all its (literal) darkness, Tiffany’s absolutely isn't. It is a vision of love, guttering in the void; a strange dream of America, falling through the night.

By: Andrzej Lukowski

Posted:

Venue name: Duke of York’s Theatre
Contact:
Address: 104 St Martin’s Lane
London
WC2N 4BG
Transport: Leicester Square tube
Price: £15-£85
Event website: http://www.americanrepertorytheater.org
To improve this listing email: feedback@timeout.com

Average User Rating

2.9 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:4
  • 4 star:3
  • 3 star:1
  • 2 star:3
  • 1 star:5
LiveReviews|16
2 people listening
Peter W
1 of 1 found helpful

If you look through the Time Out Users' reviews, as opposed to those of the Critics, there seems to be a clear divide between the more 'Arty' (if they'll forgive the lack of a better term)  reviewers, who liked it and the more ordinary theatre-goers, like me, who didn't. I too would happily have left at the interval. I found it dull, lacking in credibility, plot and substance and felt the cast overacted, like caricatures of 'theatricals' perhaps might. For me, neither the narrator doubling as a player nor the dreary set  worked. The misplaced magic and the virtual miming of the family meals did not fit in either and the whole thing just  left me cold.  It might be down to a more grounded approach to life (or other Philistine failings on my part) but it was the worst thing I have seen on the London stage in the past 12 years, probably since the equally dull 'Art' , leaving me to question how many of the multi-star reviewers were affected by Emperor's New Clothes syndrome.

Dez V
1 of 1 found helpful

Saw it last night, and wasn't impressed. The single stunning thing about it was this raving TimeOut review, featured at the entrance of the theater, too, on a board, and totally out of line with the show's actual worth. With the exception of the actress playing the mother, who was just all right, all performances were of amateur drama circle level. Especially cringeworthy was the Lucy Moran voice impression for the Laura character, that made TO gush about a Twin Peaks-y atmosphere, which was totally not the case. Missing were the obsidian pools of water, also. Interestingly, nobody mentioned this was going to be a "reduced value" evening when I bought my ticket.   

jutney
Tastemaker

Seeing the users’ reviews, people seem to love it or hate it... I wish I had read some of those reviews (instead of only critics’ ones) before going to see. I was quite disappointed... I guess if I hadn’t expected such a great play, I might have liked it more...

The scenery is not that special, after the surprising entrance of the narrator’s sister, there’s nothing that justifies (this surprising entrance). I guess that was a way of trying to separate more ‘real’ moments – when he’s just reminiscing – and the memories itself, but besides the lighting (really good job on that), everything else seemed quite forced. Including the acting.
The mother is quite impressive, but the actors playing the siblings... They could not be more ‘theatrical’. And the sister’s voice... Her crippling shyness could be shown without that annoying voice! The ‘gentleman caller’ was pretty good too, but he couldn’t make the play better in it’s last, I don’t know, 20 minutes.
It’s a beautiful play, it’s a pity this production doesn’t do it justice. 

MyNameIsRamen B

When you decide to put on such a classical piece which has been performed so many times you MUST be innovative and try make it original, current and (note to the director) add something personal...There was nothing original in this production; nothing FRESH. It was so dull and old-fashioned. I've seen the play one other time and it was an amazing experience. It was so unique and very personal because the director had done a huge research on Tennessee Williams and there was a lot of substance as she used bits from his earlier works and early versions.

Back to the west end play: All of the performances felt overacted, like caricatures (maybe Americans like that kind of acting) and I could hardly believe any of the actors. Another thing: THERE WAS NO MAGIC. This play is a MEMORY PLAY and about dreams. Nothing in the production gave that feeling. The director had an abundance of source material to create something magical...but no just rush it up and make it like any other play...Very WRONG to have Laura speak in such irritating voice; made her a caricature and didn't do justice to Tennessee Williams character. Also why wasn't she more evidently crippled ? No justice at all to the original material.
Finally at the end, I was hoping to see Laura blow out the candles and have some closure...but no....just have the candles blow out by themselves...NO MAGIC at all. I can't find anything good to say about this production. 
I don't understand how it got positive reviews by critics, let alone Olivier nominations...

William w
tastemaker

I have always had a soft spot for this William's play and liked it very much. The first act dragged a little but the second act was great. The cast were all very good on a lovely set.

Gabrielle W

Absolutely phenomenal performance from the entire cast, and supported by a stunning set and score.

Sonia C

I simply did not get this & didn't engage at all. Reading the Time Out review I don't feel like I saw the same play but that is probably more a reflection of my own tastes & lack of appreciation of the subtleties spotted by your reviewer. I couldn't connect with the characters & did not view the set as exceptional. I found the plot old fashioned & plodding. Since there was no visceral reaction or emotional attachment I left at half time so can not comment on the twist other reviewers mention. However my companions did stay & found while a very sad story it was a quality production & worthwhile endeavour.

Paul G

Absolutely beautiful; brittle and sparkling like crystals. A Masterclass in breathing life into complex characters. I'd give it 6 stars if I could.

julio bruno
moderator

John Tiffany has directed this Tennessee Wiliam's masterpiece with a brilliant hand. And that is not an easy task. The 1944 play is notoriously difficult to pin down: is it realism or even magic realism? (Laura enters the stage through the sofa.) Tiffany's direction and stage design add to that 'magic realism' theme in my view.   Cherry Jones as Amanda is superb and to me, the best actor in it by far, taking nothing away from the rest of the cast, but her understanding and portraying of Amanda is mesmerizing.  It is a small play and it is a big play, you decide, but go and see it.

Adrian H
Tastemaker

Kate O'Flynn brings a beautiful fragility to the role of the crippled and cripplingly shy Laura. As delicate as the glass animals she surrounds herself with but, also like glass, with a light that sparkles when a warm beam is shone upon it, Laura is one of the most heartbreaking of Williams's heroines and it takes a special talent to portray her.


The scene that stands out is surely the moment when the long expected gentleman caller has to gently and clumsily shatter Laura's hopes. For a moment the audience truly believes that, at last, she will find happiness in the arms of the sweet, well-meaning high school crush; she laughs, she draws forward into the light, she trusts the most precious of her glass animals to his chunky fingers - and then the illusion is shattered. We always knew there would be no happy ending but we wanted to believe, just for a moment, that there could be.


A sweetly melancholy production that captures perfectly the restlessness and isolation of youth and also the fading hopes and dreams of age.



John C
tastemaker

My expectations for this production were very high (Broadway transfer / via Edinburgh).

I regret to say I found the production rather lacking. I've seen the play before so I knew what to expect. As most critics seem to think this was so great, I have to ask did I catch a below par performance (it was an early matinee - but not a preview). The whole thing struck me as more irritating than anything else. The small cast seemed to labour at bringing the thing to life.The mother (played by Cherry Jones) gives a strong performance, but there is little light or shade .Her two children Tom & Laura, played by Michael Esper & Kate O'Flynn fail to create believable characters. Michael Esper (Tom) has the role of the narrator which I thought should have been all about poetical reminiscences, but I thought this feeling was really missed. The Gentleman caller (Brian J Smith) tried hard to resuscitate the play, but by the time he appears it's too late for me to really care.  

Carly-Ann Clements
Staff Writer

I absolutely loved this production. From the dreamlike sets to the incredible performances, it's one of the best plays I've seen in recent months - which is truly saying something as there's been some incredible theatre on in the West End.

Richard N
Tastemaker

This is the first time I've experienced The Glass Menagerie in any form. In terms of narrative, not much really happens in The Glass Menagerie and it could be perceived as one of the duller ones from Tennessee Williams, but I thought the characters really came alive through the fantastic acting and magical direction of Tiffany. Cherry Jones really is a tour de force, and in the long history of overbearing theatre mums, Amanda Wingfield is certainly in the running for the greatest one. The soundtrack by Nico Muhly and beautiful set really made this piece work, with the music underscoring the really emotional moments and bringing out Williams' more poetic lines, while the set was a mesmerising island. When people dare to put actual water on stage, it's usually hit or miss, but I think the island/isolation theme really worked here. Tiffany's choice to make Laura and Jim seem like they had an actual chance of ending up together also made the eventual reveal all too heartbreaking, and once you get past the annoying accent from Kate O'Flynn, there's a real strength to her performance that makes you want to care for her like a sister. The tragic elements of the play are really well done here, and I definitely nearly shed a tear. I still haven't had the chance to see Cursed Child (tickets are ridiculously expensive) but with how much I enjoyed this, I can't imagine how much fun I'd have with a piece that holds much more nostalgia for me in the Harry Potterverse. Glass Menagerie deserves those accolades, and Tiffany really brings a touch of magic to it. 

Chris
Tastemaker

Not sure why all the reviews are so negative - there are some great performances and from my cheap seat in the gods I thought the set was stunning. 

Hannah N

Shockingly boring and dull play......I stayed until the end but wasted the last few hours of my life....Tennessee Williams at his best if that is to bore the pants off an audience!

Dominic M

Probably the most boring play ever written topped off by a dark miserable set and uncharismatic acting. Luckily I had only paid £20 and so very happily left at half time to go and find some paint to watch drying.