Theatre review: The Glass Menagerie is a perfectly recreated classic, brought to life by talented locals

The Glass Menagerie

It’s easy to assume a classic story will feel tired and dull when it’s reproduced for the thousandth time – but that was not the case with The Glass Menagerie. Perhaps it was the vivacious talent delivering the script or the timelessness of family drama, but this Tennessee Williams piece felt just as relevant and gripping as it must have in the 1940s. 

Produced by the Black Swan State Theatre Company of WA, this version of The Glass Menagerie is a very local production, with plenty of Western Australians lending their talents to the show. I attended the opening night of the play at His Majesty’s Theatre, where the first few thunderous lines were able to silence a crowd that had spent two hours drinking complimentary cocktails. 

One obvious reason for the continued success of the play is that the topic of family is universal and will always feel close to home. There’s only one setting (a family living room) and four characters (three of them a family), but that’s all it needs. The play has that ‘slice of life’ style, where the conversations are so quick, spontaneous, and brutal that it feels quite confronting. As a classic, a brilliant script was expected, but it turned out to be the sort of brilliance that makes you realise why it’s so beloved – not the sort where you walk away secretly wondering what the fuss is about. 

An amazing script can easily be destroyed by lazy acting, but there were no such issues in this production – every actor was completely invested in the story and delivered each line with vigour. As an American play, there’s always the risk of questionable attempts at the accents, but the cast pulled off believable versions of strong southern drawls without sounding too stereotypical.

Mandy McElhinney was the standout performer by far, bringing incredible energy to the stage for a hilarious rendition of the mother, Amanda Wingfield. Her comedic timing, dramatic expressions, and perfect delivery of the lines left the audience hanging onto her every word. Joel Jackson was Tom Wingfield, the brother, and as the narrator of Tennessee Williams’ most autobiographical work, he was almost playing Williams himself. He delivered complex lines expertly, matched McElhinney’s dramatic comedy, and embodied the character of the ‘trapped’, creative young man. Acacia Daken brought an intriguing ethereal quality to the character of Laura Wingfield – the socially awkward sister with a passion for glass figurines – and gave what could have been a one-dimensional character some subtle emotional depth.

The Glass Menagerie is a unique play, as Tennessee Williams created very specific stage directions to accompany the dialogue, so there wasn’t much room for the designers to work with. However, the set and costume designer, Fiona Bruce, managed to tweak the scenes in an elegant way. The set was quite open, featuring an apartment without doors or windows, and the rooms were separated simply by sheer screens and floating levels. This complemented the abstract, dream-like feeling that Williams was aiming for. 

A stand-out element from the original set direction was the way relevant images and snippets from the script were projected around the stage. The video designer, Michael Carmody, did an excellent job of recreating Williams’ ideas, using beautiful images of glass reflections and roses unfurling, as well as humorous pictures of shirtless men to match the topic of ‘gentlemen callers’. As dictated in the opening narration, it’s a ‘memory play’, so the direction also calls for a musician to sit in the background and create every sound effect and musical accompaniment to the scenes. Tom O’Halloran was the incredibly deft composer and pianist for this iteration of the play, silhouetted behind sheer screens, his music mirroring the characters’ emotions perfectly. 

The Glass Menagerie is a timeless masterpiece that has remained relevant due to its intelligent script, modern set direction, and focus on the small yet heartbreaking misfortunes of life. In this Western Australian version, the local cast and crew have done it justice, bringing the script to life with flawless acting and creative design work. It’s a well-rounded, amusing, and emotionally impactful production, where you’ll see two hours pass in the blink of an eye. 

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The Glass Menagerie is playing at His Majesty’s Theatre until 21 August.

Reviewer attended on the 4th of August 2022.

Header image credit: Daniel-J-Grant