The Glass Menagerie at the King's Theatre was always promising to be one of the dramatic high points of Edinburgh International Festival for 2016, and it certainly lived up to that promise.
This at times almost claustrophobic family drama set in 1937 St Louis by Tennessee Williams takes us into the small apartment of former southern belle Amanda Wingfield (Cherry Jones) and her two adult children - restless son Tom (Michael Esper) and terribly shy and introverted due to a minor disability, daughter Laura (Kate O’Flynn). Amanda’s husband and father to her children has long ago walked out on the family and in a world far from what she ever imagined life could ever end up like, Amanda’s one driving ambition is to find a husband to provide financial security for her daughter (and hopefully herself too). That faint hope of a better tomorrow comes in the form of Jim O’Connor (Seth Numrich). Amanda’s plans though, like the rest of her life, take a different turn from her hopes.
Directed by John Tiffany, this is the European premiere of the Tony Award-nominated Broadway production, and it is an outstanding piece of theatre that, led by someone with the presence that Cherry Jones has on stage, simply pulls the audience completely into the world and the story of the Wingfields. There are no weak links on stage in this production; everyone is outstanding in their part. Watching Kate O’Flynn as the introvert Laura slowly come out of her shell for a short spell then disappear back into it even worse than before is a very emotional piece of theatre itself to watch.
Bob Crowley with set and costume design has done an amazing visual job here using the full height of the stage with fire escape apartment steps reaching as far as the eye can see. The stage itself is set on floating platforms of black coloured liquid that give an almost full vertical mirror reflection of the set and the rising moon that is being observed. From the galleries, this must have been a spectacular view to see, but unfortunately from where I was sitting in the stalls, I could see none of this reflective spectacle and only discovered it out of curiosity at the interval, and I know many people around me had no idea it was there either.
The Glass Menagerie is simply a wonderful piece of theatre, and like all great stage works seems to be over far too quickly as you get so pulled into the story, the characters and their world that you just do not notice the time going by.
Review by Tom King