The Glass Menagerie at the Rose Theatre Kingston

Geraldine Somerville (Amanda Wingfield) and Natalie Kimmerling (Laura Wingfield). Credit Marc Brenner.
Geraldine Somerville (Amanda Wingfield) and Natalie Kimmerling (Laura Wingfield). Credit Marc Brenner.

How will we destroy ourselves? A Third World War with nuclear weapons? a climate apocalypse? a global plaque that makes the black death of 1342 look like a minor event? or an AI reverse takeover by supercomputers?

Whichever it is to be, no one had a better image of the precarious nature of our precious blue planet than Tennessee Williams: The Glass Menagerie. He saw both humans and animals as tiny fragile glass figurines living precariously on this planet. Can we avoid smashing those delicate glass objects or are we doomed to death, disaster and destruction? These are the questions put to us in the current terrific production of The Glass Menagerie at the Rose Theatre Kingston.

The theme of an embattled earth is wonderfully embodied in the theatre’s circular stage. We the audience become Eliot’s still point of a turning world as the actors revolve around the space. The effect of a turning world is doubled by the giant Antony Gormley-like Angel of the North structure which dominates the centre of the stage. But instead of the arms of the Angel, we have the word ‘Paradise’ in lights, as it were, from the lights on Broadway. The slow ‘Paradise’ rotation is mesmerising. The lights change and the meaning changes. Is Paradise on Earth possible or is it a cruel hoax? I came away with a profound sense of the tragic. What we do to each other on both the intimate level of the family as well as globally seems inescapably set in stone. We are trapped. This is a play that we need to see right now. We need to see ourselves as we really are.

Part Waiting for Godot part Abigail’s Party, director Atri Banerjee has put together a wonderfully animated interpretation of The Glass Menagerie. The claustrophobic nature of life in the Wingfield family is brilliantly realised. Everybody is trapped. Parents, children, men, women all face “No Exit” signs at every turn. Geraldine Somerville gives a master class as the matriarch Amanda Wingfield who both keeps the family together but also enervates everything she touches.

Combining the cringe-making retorts of Beverley Moss and the haughty delusions of Miss Jean Brodie, Geraldine’s Amanda Wingfield is a superb grotesque creation. She has the power of repulsion and attraction in equal measure. And yet we never lose sympathy with her because we can see that she loves her children too much. That’s her tragedy. Her son Tom Wingfield is a portrait of Tennessee himself. Superbly realised by the wonderfully talented Kasper Hilton-Hille. Acting as both narrator and character in the play Kasper gives a performance of stunning depth and insight. A young man who wants to get on the road like Jack Kerouac he finds himself check-mated by family ties, money and guilt. His relationship with his sister Laura – played by the outstanding Natalie Kimmerling – is at the heart of these ties. Laura is a ‘home girl waiting for a ‘gentleman caller’. Unlike Waiting for Godot someone does come. But like the debacle at Abigail’s Party, things don’t end well. Zacchaeus Kayode plays the disruptor, Jim O’Connor. Zacchaeus gives an astonishingly assured performance as the Nietzschean superman and Jungian psychologist Jim O’Connor. Think Jurgen Klopp meets Joe Wicks.

The creative team have done a tremendous job. The set is minimal but highly evocative. The lighting is spot on, pun intended. The music and sound effects are highly original and add depth to the overall architecture of the play. Last but not least those highly symbolic glass ornamental animals. It was pure genius on Williams’ part to come up with a tiny delicate glass figurine to represent both us and our planet. Watching last night’s performance of The Glass Menagerie brought home to me just how precious, fragile and vulnerable we are. It’s an important play, this is a fine production. I urge you to see it.

4 stars

Review by John O’Brien

Tom escapes a suffocating home life through cigarettes and long visits to the movies while his sister, Laura, withdraws into her records and collection of glass animals. But their mother, Amanda, harbours dreams for them far beyond their shabby apartment. When Tom brings home a potential suitor for Laura, Amanda seizes the opportunity to try and change their fortunes forever.

The Glass Menagerie is a poetic portrayal of a family on the brink of change. This intimate and intense memory play explores the complex web of love and loyalty that binds families together.

A Rose Theatre, Alexandra Palace Theatre, and Belgrade Theatre production in association with the Royal Exchange Theatre

Geraldine Somerville | Amanda Wingfield
Kasper Hilton-Hille | Tom Wingfield
Zacchaeus Kayode | Jim O’Connor
Natalie Kimmerling | Laura Wingfield

The creative team includes Atri Banerjee (Director), Rosanna Vize (Designer), Lee Curran (Lighting Designer), Giles Thomas (Composer and Sound Designer), Anthony Missen (Movement Director), Helena Palmer CDG (Casting Director), Darren Sinnott (Associate Director), Alys Whitehead (Associate Designer) and Robbie Butler (Associate Lighting Designer).

By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Atri Banerjee
Booking to 4th May 2024

Book Tickets for The Glass Menagerie

Rose Theatre ⁠— 17 April-4 May
Bristol Old Vic — 7-11 May
Theatre Royal Bath — 13-18 May
Alexandra Palace — 22 May-1 June

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