The Glass Menagerie

10 December 2010, Young Vic Theatre, London

I’m increasingly enjoying watching theatre… but even more to my surprise, enjoying reading plays! I’ve never read or looked to read plays voluntarily. Why…? I think it’s partly because I enjoy prose more. It’s less fragmented, more descriptive. It is less work because authors are usually so (or more) descriptive you don’t need to fill in the gaps between the lines. But that can’t be why, because I enjoy conjuring up the images to accompany the text and I don’t think I mind working harder. I think partly it has to do with having to read them for school so I’ve always associated them with homework. Also it’s because I ignorantly think that playtexts are so much simpler, almost too simple. But in reality, playtexts can be so so rich. Just like Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie and Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane. The two plays I’ve read in my own time since IB (ten years!) Great plays – so poetic and the characters are so developed.

The Glass Menagerie was really good tonight. The set wasn’t as elaborate as you thought a Christmas show’s set would be, but it completely fit what the director was trying to emphasize – that Tom’s memory was like the films he went to “see” at night – with curtains, stage lamps, exposed wings… where Tom (protagonist and narrator of this memory play) overlooked his own memories and could control the lighting and music. Just like how we can control our memory, or how we choose to remember things. Actually one interesting thing he said was that memories are always to music. Is that true for you? Mine aren’t. I wonder if my dreams are. Hm.

The acting was phenomenal. It really was an all star cast – Leo Bill (Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland), Sinead O’Connor, Deborah Findlay and Kyle Soller. At first I was slightly apprehensive about what their accents would be like. Having lived in cities where you come across all different accents, I don’t really pay attention to accents that much, but unfortunately the only time I really notice is when someone adopts a poor American accent. I remember watching a play once and my friend complained about the poor British accent – something I hadn’t noticed at all! Anyway I’ve strayed – their accents were completely fine 😛

The music was so beautiful (and haunting at the right moments). Especially composed by Dario Marianelli (BAFTA and Oscar-winning composer for Atonement)… it’s his first theatre creation in a long long time. Actually amazing that he wrote music for the production – what a feat! I love his work ethic (listen to a great podcast here). He went to a script-reading very early on in the rehearsal process, recorded them and then went home and wrote a soundtrack for the whole show in one sitting(!). Then over the weeks, he’d go to rehearsals again and again and worked with the Director and actors. Usually music is an after-thought, something slapped on at the end. Not this play though. And the instruments they used were great – other than the piano, there were wine and sherry glasses and a new invention, the glass harpsichord.

I particularly enjoyed the play because I have wealth of Tennessee Williams knowledge that I’ve accumulated over the past few months. I met with a Tennessee Williams scholar Dr Robert Bray who answered so many of my questions. It was really fascinating.

Some facts and thoughts – Tennessee Williams… what an incredible character. The Glass Menagerie is one of his most personal plays as it’s almost an autobiography. Laura was mirrored on Rose (his real sister) and Mother on his own Mother. Rose was diagnosed with schizophrenia and then got a lobotomy – something Tennessee Williams never forgave his parents for. He really cared for Rose and she had a glass menagerie in her room (thus The Glass Menagerie) and it was the only room Tennessee Williams came to enjoy being in. The play was initially called The Gentleman Caller. He felt really suffocated at home and so on Boxing Day of 1939, he left home and never returned again (just like he does in the play). Sadly, no one is carrying on the Williams’ name. His brother Dakin was the last in the family and died a few years ago. Tennessee Williams himself best loved his Two Character play (loosely recognized as the sequel to The Glass Menagerie apparently) and Blanche Debois from A Streetcar Named Desire. He’s openly gay and always said that Blanche was the creation which was most like him.

Tennessee Williams led such an interesting life. He wrote many successful plays (as well as novels, poems, autobiographies…) but also suffered so much – from depression, from losing loved ones (Frank Merlo), from being discouraged to do what he wanted (writing) to having to keep proving himself to his parents. He didn’t like being in the limelight. Whenever I think of great writers from last Century who had many Broadway successes, I think of them living happy, glamorous, carefree lives. How far from the truth is that? I read many of his letters to various people (The Selected Letters of Tennesee Williams I and II). Recommend that if you want to find out more about his life! I think it’s a shame we don’t write letters anymore. Emails just aren’t the same.

Anyway – the show has been extended until 15 Jan – highly recommend it!

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