Olivia Rook, Critics’ Circle Main Editor
Perhaps the most famous of Tennessee Williams’ plays (following A Streetcar Named Desire, of course), The Glass Menagerie is currently on stage at Nottingham Playhouse, and has come under fire from this year’s Critics’ Circle! The lack of activity in the first half definitely left a few of our critics restless in their seats as they waited for the interval. However, the addition of a new character in the second – Daniel Donskoy as Jim O’Connor – definitely added a new dynamic to the play. The intimate moments between his character and the shy, timid Laura (played by Amy Trigg) gave the performance an intimacy and sensitivity which drew in the audience and made them further understand Laura’s isolated world. Although the large fire escape – which dominated the right-hand side of the stage – definitely drew the eye, several of the critics found it was not used to full effect, as only a couple of the characters smoked by the front door, and it was used for some exits and entrances. This, however, could have been for creative effect. Most of the acting took place in the relatively cramped space of the Wingfield living room, powerfully demonstrating the claustrophobic existence of all those on stage. Slow moving for some but with interesting creative decisions, The Glass Menagerie has received mixed reviews from Critics’ Circle.
VERY LITTLE ACTION – Poppy Cook
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams follows the memory of Tom Wingfield living with his mother and sister in 1930s America. My problem with this play was that that was about it – nothing really happened, at least for the first act anyway. I thought each of the characters was portrayed excellently, each with their own unique personalities, ranging from the charming heart-breaker Jim, to Amanda, the intense and melodramatic mother, but nevertheless I was disappointed by the lack of action. Personally, I would have preferred if Act One was considerably shorter or at least if
something had happened before the interval.
One of the highlights of this piece for me was the huge metal fire-escape which spanned the floor to the ceiling on the stage. Other than this, the set was minimalistic which worked in its favour – every piece of furniture played a vivid part in the memory from which the story was told so each item had its own importance. Sound designer Adam McCready cleverly worked with designer Tim Meacock to produce a slightly different quality of sound when the actors were on the fire escape, allowing the distinction between locations to be clearer. All of the actors within the play were miked up and, although I was initially sceptical about this, it worked well and all lines were delivered clearly.
The first half was too long for my liking but I still enjoyed the play. I’d recommend it to anyone who is familiar with the script or aware that there is very little action.
Evan Gwynne – Review
So… I’m going to be blunt. I don’t think I liked this play. And I think I know why.
Firstly, I want to address something that might have altered my mind-set prior to entering the theatre. I spoke to a man called Giles, the director of this piece, and one of the things he said that stood out was ‘It’s got little action. It’s very much a play about character’, or something to that effect. And yet… there was an important character in act 2 that just… had no character.
Well, first things first: good bits. The set is huge; not the whole thing, mind, but a very specific bit that immediately grabs your attention – the fire escape. It’s used as an exit for characters, and is probably one of the best bits of this play. About half of the characters (which is easy to say, as there are only 4) are interesting, with their own motivations and flaws. The third character is alright, but a little weaker than the others. And the forth one…
And therein lies the rub. There is a character introduced in act 2 called (spoilers… maybe) Jim. Jim is boring, and hollow, and has no character…. not pinned on the actor at all, but how he was written. And half of act 2 is a long, boring conversation between him and the weaker character. Another thing Giles brought up was ‘A moment that Jim and another character would be forever guilted by’, and so I ended up waiting for a tragic, dramatic moment that never came.
So, overall. Act 1 was fun, had pace, character, and was ultimately very interesting. But act 2… Ruined all of that. I’m sorry, but I can’t find myself recommending this one.
“I’ll rise, but I won’t shine!” – Stan Cook
The Glass Menagerie is a play set in America in the 1930s. It follows a family of three; Tom, the son and also narrator of the piece, Laura, his sister who is an avid glass collector, and their mother, Amanda. Tom works in a warehouse, and often goes to the movies at night, and Laura and Amanda are bound to their home. Amanda is determined for Laura to find someone to marry, however due to her having to use a wheelchair and her shy nature, it has yet to happen. One day, Tom comes home, announcing that his friend from the warehouse, Jim, will be coming for dinner the next day. Amanda sees this as an ideal opportunity to match Laura with someone, but in the heat of the moment, will her daughter buckle under the pressure?
Personally, I felt the first half was very slow. I believe this to be through no fault of the actors, though, as I think the script failed to give them anything to particularly feed off. The tediously long first act only really introduced a back story, which could have been wrapped up in 15 minutes. I was set up to be disappointed in the second act.
However, this was not the case as the introduction of a new character lit a spark which the show so desperately needed. I give huge credit to Daniel Donskoy, who played the character of Jim, for making the second act so much more alive and fluid than the first.
Overall, I didn’t really enjoy the show, especially not the first act. However due to the reaction of the rest of the audience, I would recommend the play to an older audience. Perhaps my teenage mind-set didn’t fully appreciate the piece.
A Shattered Glass Menagerie – Ryan Dickson
The play is about the trials and tribulations of a disabled women’s life in the 1930s. The story is about a family that contains a single mother (Susannah Harker) her son (Chris New) and her daughter (Amy Trigg). The daughter, Laura, is disabled and incredibly shy. Because of this she drops out of school and her mother decides the only way Laura will live a good life is to marry a successful man. The mother sends Tom, Laura’s brother, in search of a man for Laura and he ends up bringing home Laura’s high school crush, Jim (Daniel Donskoy).
My favourite character was Jim played by Daniel Donskoy because, I’ll be honest, the play before Jim came was quite pointless and boring. He played this very bubbly and confident character very well and he really brought the stage alive.
I didn’t really like the set but I can see why other people would. When I was talking to the director, Giles Croft, he was saying that this fire escape was supposed to be a solid object and a big part of the play but they only used the fire escape when some characters were smoking so it didn’t have as big of an impact as I would have thought.I didn’t enjoy the play because nothing really happened apart from the family arguing and then Jim coming round. I would probably rate it 2 stars out of 5.
Zoe Pritchard-Tye – Review
Seeing The Glass Menagerie made me feel good. It was exciting to see an actress who is a manual wheelchair user on stage in a main role. I didn’t know anything about the play beforehand, but found the story easy to follow. I also enjoyed hearing director Giles Croft talking about the design before the play began. The set design and costumes were impressive; I especially liked the rain effect. I recommend people to see the play because even through it was written over 70 years ago, there is a lot people can learn about what it is like to have a disability, and more importantly how people behave around people with disabilities, whilst at the same time seeing a well written and produced play.
After watching the play I later enjoyed reading an article written by Amy Trigg, the actress playing Laura Wingfield, on how some places claim to be accessible and they aren’t quite. I find this a lot! I then a watched a dance piece performed and choreographed by Amy.
Sarosha Byrne- Review
The Glass Menagerie is set in Missouri, in a small household with only three family members. The play is partly narrated by the character of Tom through his memories. There is a small cast, with only four characters, Tom Wingfield, the narrator, Laura, Tom’s sister, Amanda, Tom’s mother, and Jim O’Connor.
Director Giles Croft came up with his own take on the set of the production by constructing a huge fire escape, and making it a towering structure which highlights the separation between Tom and his family. Tom’s (played by Chris New) first entrance onto the stage came via descending this fire escape. This could be ambiguous and referring to his coming from his current life, and reminiscing about his old one with his family.
Another adaptation is that in Tennessee Williams’ play, Tom’s sister Laura has a limp. In this production, Croft decided to take this a step further and have Laura in a wheelchair. This is a great show of diversity, and enables disabled actors such as Amy Trigg to have a place on stage. This casting choice was carried out brilliantly, especially as no extra attention within the script was placed on this disability.
Overall, I thought The Glass Menagerie was a great play that shows diversity towards those with disabilities and mental health. Susannah Harker was an excellent actress, portraying Laura’s overbearing mother, as well as being partly comical with references to her youth, and her enthusiasm for Laura’s gentleman caller with the first and last wardrobe change of the play.
Rachael Wells – Review
The Nottingham Playhouse’s production of The Glass Menagerie embodies the writer’s vision.
The actors portrayed each iconic character with truthfulness and passion, bringing to light through the beautiful poetry of the script the seriousness of their situation. One of the very few Tennessee Williams plays not to be set in the South of America, here we are transported to 1930’s Chicago, where a mother is desperately trying to craft a future for her disabled daughter, and keep up her Southern values as daughter of a highly respected family. Her shame is doubled as her husband has left her with her son and daughter to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, she is overbearing towards her son, who is afraid of mirroring his father’s actions, and only wants the best for his sister.
The mother, portrayed by Susannah Harker, is comically over the top, helping us to laugh through this tragic play, and yet still shows us the tender-hearted mother underneath. Her stifling mothering is a fantastic contrast with the terrified shrinking violet that is her daughter, played by Amy Trigg. This grants us an amazing glimpse into the life of our esteemed author, whose own sister was disabled, and features, in one way or another, in many of his plays. Meanwhile, Chris New, who provides us with a glance into the struggles of Tennessee Williams whilst he was aspiring to write, plays our narrating brother, and shows the play through his eyes as brief but powerful memories. Our final character is the hopeful ‘gentleman caller’, played by Daniel Donskoy, who makes a massive impact in the lives of our characters, despite only being in the play for the very last scene.
The use of subtle, yet powerful lighting highlights tender and emotional scenes whilst showing us where best to look. Use of sound and visual effects makes this a play you do not want to miss.
Eve James – Review
Prior to seeing this performance I did not have much existing knowledge of the play. Even after I had left the theatre I felt I possessed very little information about the characters and their situation.
The vague ending of the play left me wondering about the future of these characters as the audience was left with very little idea of the future of the Wingfield family (the three principal characters within the plot).
The second act was far more fast-paced than the first half of the play. The addition of a new character, who was presented as quite different to the family, altered their situation. This made the performance more varied and interesting. I felt the first act was quite slow-paced and dry. I also felt that there was a lot of repetition, reflecting their repetitive family life.
Although I cannot say that ‘The Glass Menagerie’ was the best play I have seen, it was far from the worst.
Ellie Bow – Visual Response
Holly Jackson – Review
Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie explores the life of the three members of the Wingfield family. The narrator, Tom, is a young man who works in a warehouse dreaming of being a poet who uses movies as a method of escapism. Laura, Tom’s shy, ‘crippled’ sister, passes her time playing with her collection of glass animals – ‘the glass menagerie’. Their mother, Amanda, who comes from the South and was deserted by her husband, worries neurotically about her children. In particular, about finding a gentleman caller for Laura. The play is set in late 1930s America and follows Amanda’s search for a potential gentleman caller for her daughter.
The characterisation of the family and establishment of their relationships in the play kept the performance engaging, and therefore it didn’t matter that there was little action.
The lighting was an interesting element of the performance; shifting subtly but effectively within the scenes to reflect the memory-like atmosphere. The lighting often highlighted Laura’s glass menagerie, a central focus within the performance, revealing its importance to the plot. The use of candlelight was also particularly atmospheric on-stage.
The sound effects within the play were also employed with skill. Echoes were used effectively and repeatedly to give particular scenes a memory-like quality, leading the audience to question the reality of certain moments.
The fire escape, from which Tom narrates the action taking place in the apartment, was used in an engaging manner. The size of the fire escape gave this particular part of the set dominance on-stage, highlighting its importance in separating Tom from his family.
Overall, the show was very enjoyable and impressive, including both amusing and also very sad moments.
Iman Aslam – Review
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams is a production which, for me, provoked mixed emotions. I felt the first half of the show was rather slow as the plot seemed a little repetitive and not much action took place on stage.
However, the characters were developed well and the actors represented their characters with skill – making them, and their situation, more believable. During the second act, the play rapidly gained pace and became more interesting and enjoyable to watch as the action drew the audience in. The introduction of the eccentric character Jim O’Connor to the stage and his interaction with Laura encourage the audience to feel sympathetic towards her. She is pressured into meeting Jim and is then rejected by him.
To me, the scene in which Jim comes to dine with the family seemed to be the most interesting and climactic part of the play and I would’ve enjoyed seeing a bit more of an eventful story line. However, I do appreciate the art and skill that went into the production and director, Giles Croft, successfully captured the hardships of the Wingfield family.
Chloe Brearley – Review
We went with Critics’ Circle to watch The Glass Menagerie, set in the 1930s.
The play was about a woman called Amanda, who has a daughter called Laura who is really shy. Laura is also obsessed with glass animals and fantasy. Lauren has a brother called Tom who is always going to the movies and likes poetry; he is also a dreamer. Their mother wants Lauren to have a gentleman caller but she feels held back because she is in a wheelchair. She likes a boy called Jim, a high school boy in the senior class. He used to call her ‘blue roses’. Lauren thinks Jim is getting engaged to Emily Meisenbach – a popular girl from her old school.
The first act was interesting and I enjoyed it. The strongest character was Tom Wingfield who delivered numerous monologues and narrated the play. The first act was good but the second was not as strong as the first. However, the music was fantastic throughout.
The lighting had a very soft, warm feeling. There were a variety of props and they had stairs on the stage which were very high. It was not one of my favourite plays, but I did enjoy it.
Georgie Daunt – Review
Set in the 1930’s, The Glass Menagerie tells the tale of a family through Tom – the son’s – eyes. He introduces the audience to his life as a warehouse worker and his family – an enthusiastic mother and a very shy sister. Amanda, his mother, has hopes that her daughter will find a nice young man to settle down with, so when Tom brings his friend Jim to visit a lot of effort is put into making sure he sees Laura in her best light.
I felt that the play was well acted especially by Amy Trigg who played Laura. The scene between her and Daniel Donskoy (Jim) was captivating and engaged the audience, even producing a few laughs at the right times.
Although the acting was great there were times – particularly in the first act – when I could not see the actors. I felt that, although the home setting looked stunning, the stage was too cluttered so there was often a chair or another piece of furniture blocking the characters.
To me, the first act dragged a bit, whether from the blocking or the story it is hard to tell. However, it really picked up in the second act, sparking interest and causing me to feel quite let down when the ending was so inconclusive.
To finish, I thought the play was well done for the story it has, although I would recommend seats in the circle as I feel like the view would be much better from there.
Subtly In Ambition – Sophie Boettge
Tennessee Williams’ iconic play, The Glass Menagerie, is being performed at our very own iconic theatre, Nottingham Playhouse. This version of The Glass Menagerie took its own take on this ambitious, yet honest, play with its powerful themes.
Escape, a bitter¬sweet nostalgia and a reluctance to face reality were all expertly brought to the stage by experienced Playhouse director, Giles Croft, and his cast, who perfectly captured this charmingly neurotic family.
We got to meet a shy yet endearing daughter, Laura, whose main concern in her early adult years is her collection of glass ornaments, something she can share her fragility with. Her controlling mother, Amanda, is trying to enforce her own past, including her ‘gentlemen callers’, upon Laura when she realises their prospects are limited. However, she still proves to be truly loving and caring. And the more unstable Tom, Laura’s brother, who is forced to support the family as a factory worker, when in actuality he wishes to escape in any way possible. The Wingfields are constantly trying to adjust in a new city without Mr. Wingfield, and we see this story through the memories of Tom. Although this play has no explosive plot, the characters and stories speak for themselves, making this play truly ambitious.
With an eerily open stage, the few pieces of furniture in their St. Louis apartment were strikingly overshadowed by a beautifully enormous fire escape, which brought a spectral atmosphere onto the set while giving Tom a perfect place to narrate his life. Each actor brought their own energy to their roles, the most significant change being Laura. Although there is mention of Laura being ‘crippled’, the actor here is actually in a wheelchair, which emphasises Laura’s own anxieties and her mother’s blissful denial. Laura manoeuvred the stage perfectly and gave a wholesome and charming performance. Amanda had a wonderful southern quality to her, she was homely and had striking charisma while still maintaining her controlling nature. Tom brought tension through his nervous energy and captivated the audience. He was also contrasted with the high school acquaintance and crush of Laura’s, Jim. Jim brought an optimism into the play, giving hope to each character. His very honest nature sometimes bordered on rude but the audience still understood his good intentions.
Overall, I would say the Playhouse brought the play to life, and gave it a breath of fresh air. The set was beautiful yet somewhat haunting, allowing the play to be playfully endearing while still maintaining the dark themes. The actors allowed the play to speak for itself in a very honest and naturalistic way, and while the set was at times overbearing, nothing could hold this play back.
“Subtly Heart-Breaking” – Carys Brown
At a glance, The Glass Menagerie may not seem like one of the American greats of the 20th century. It focuses on just one middle class 1930’s American family and there is no deep overwhelming, incomprehensible tragedy or death. Yet it still marks out one of the greatest fears the young generation possessed – disappointment, lack of adventure and lost hope.
The production stressed the fact that The Glass Menagerie is a memory play- the set was darkly back-lit with its characters flooded in vivid shades of red and orange. The lines were emphasized at times, and scenes were scattered and disordered – drawing away from reality and into the “illusion” that is memory. At times, however, this felt too intense and unrealistic, making the characters difficult to understand and truly relate to. It made the first half of the play, where there was little action anyway, difficult to stay engaged and it felt like every time a character spoke they were performing a dramatic monologue instead of speaking as they would in reality.
However, as the second act progressed, the story came alive. I began feeling amusement, sympathy and in some moments related to the story being told. For a brief time it whisked you away into a different world, then threw you back into reality.
Mikolai Szybowski – Review
The moment you step foot into the theatre you are greeted by the grand metal framework of an American fire escape staircase so tall it disappears into the ceiling of the stage. From that moment you are engaged in the world of The Glass Menagerie.
When Tom Wingfield (played by Chris New) begins his narration you are instantly thrown into the world of his memory. His memory of his life with his family, set in St. Louis in the late 1930’s.
“I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”
The opening line revealed to the audience instantly sets this scene, and gives us a glimpse of the memory world we are about to enter.
Throughout the play there is an incredible acting style maintained, which quickly allows the audience to understand the well-developed characters and relate to them and their daily lives. The use of Brechtian inspired techniques, such as the representation of a rain storm by small polystyrene-like balls falling from above the stage and the way off-stage actors are incorporated by sitting at the back of the stage in darkness, show The Glass Menagerie to be both a suspending and illuminating piece of storytelling. It was completely engaging to watch, right until the final candle was extinguished, leaving the theatre in darkness.
Patrick Daunt – Review
The Glass Menagerie is a play written by Tennessee Williams in 1944. The play is based on one of the character’s memories, and is shown in a way that makes this clear. For example, in his opening speech he breaks the fourth wall and tells the audiences what will happen throughout the play. I found this part of the play very interesting, and I think it brought great potential. However, I felt the storyline let down all other aspects of the play, and it didn’t grab my attention the way I hoped it would.
The set was amazing, with the most dominant part being an incredibly large metal fire escape (which I felt was underused throughout the play) and a small flat without walls and some items were made more prominent on stage. This showed that it was a memory by demonstrating the way some things are remembered far clearer than others.
The lighting was used to highlight these objects and throughout the piece the lighting had a dreamlike quality to it, again as a subtle reminder that it was in fact all a memory. Then in the second half of the play, the stage was given the feeling of only being lit by candle-light, which I thought gave a really nice feel to the scene.
Overall I would say that it was a very well done piece of drama, with great detail put into all aspects of the play. However, the plotline didn’t interest me as much as I had hoped it would.
Amy Hardy – Review
The first thing that struck me about The Glass Menagerie was the use of a fire escape as part of the set. I thought the structure was very effective as the physical distance created by Tom standing elevated above his mother and sister mirrored the emotional distance from his family. I also liked how the audience could see the layout of all the rooms in the house on stage as it gave the impression that you could see through the walls of the house, giving the audience a sense of omniscience. The set design allowed the audience to witness all the family’s secrets and struggles, which made me empathise with Amanda, Laura and Tom respectively.
All actors gave moving and powerful performances, however I felt the characterisation of Laura was particularly poignant. Her gentle mannerisms, such as the delicate manner in which she handles her glass ornaments, make you fall in love with her and want to protect her as much as her family strive to throughout the play.
I also liked the way the music faded between relaxed and tense sounds, indicating shifts in the character’s moods and changes in their relationships with one another. The use of pathetic fallacy through storm sound effects towards the end of the play demonstrated that the family relationships were at breaking point, as well as providing a stark contrast to the sombre and silent end to the play, where it was clear that all hope for Laura, Tom and Amanda had been lost.
Ted Hepburn – Review
Tennesee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is a bleak exploration of memory.
“The play is memory. Being a memory play, it is dimly lit, it is sentimental, it is not realistic. In memory everything seems to happen to music. That explains the fiddle in the wings. I am the narrator of the play, and also a character in it. The other characters are my mother Amanda, my sister Laura and a gentleman caller who appears in the final scenes.”
The staging of the play reflects Tom Wingfield’s memories of a time in his past. The fire escape is solid and prominent both physically and in memory as it is from here that Tom narrates the unfolding plot.
Susanna Harker’s Amanda Wingfield, the faded Southern Belle, is desperate for her daughter to marry in an attempt to relive her own courtship.
Tom Wingfield struggles under pressure to provide for the family, and finds escape in alcohol and the cinema. He is cruel at times to his mother and sister, eventually abandoning the family at the close of the play.
Laura Wingfield, played by Amy Trigg, is a fragile introvert, not helped by her mother’s constant pressure upon her. A coincidence brings Jim O’Connor back into her life, a young man she had often thought highly of in High School. It emerges that he is engaged to be married and the kiss, which seemed to promise much more, would do nothing to alter Laura’s bleak existence.
We leave the family falling apart, as Tom leaves looking for adventure, and the women are left to continue in the monotonous existence that the audience have witnessed since the opening of the performance.
Louisa Barton – Visual Response
Production photography by Robert Day.