26 May 2022
THE GLASS MENAGERIE (Duke of York Theatre) Review

Surely everyone knows the plot:  a single mother in the 1930s Missouri struggles to get by with her two children.  Tom, a couple of years out of high school, is supporting the family by working at a shoe warehouse, but longs for adventure.  Laura is a fragile young woman, both mentally and physically, who is pathologically shy and hides away from the world by spending all her time with the collection of glass figurines.

Jeremy Herrin’s take on the play is creative.  The role of Tom is played by both Paul Hilton and Tom Glynn-Carney simultaneously (the former as the all grown-up narrator looking back at his life, and the latter as the in situ character in the story).  I have seen quite a few shows he directed over the years, and his style works for me.  Here he employs a minimalist set and a bit of clever background via projection, and it works remarkably well.  Being able to see the actors before the show as they sat at their tables getting ready was a very nice touch.

Having studied The Glass Menagerie at school, we learned that, whilst there are well-documented themes and expert interpretations of more or less everything Williams had to say in the play, there is still room for everyone to form their own opinion about what those characters would be like if they were to jump off the page.

Amy Adams’ portrayal of Amanda didn’t work for me at all.  As my companion and I agreed, there are things one would expect to come out of Amanda’s mouth:  all that stuff about the South, all the cheeriness, what have you.  However, I think that, because Amanda was raised a Southern belle, these things would be second nature to her, so we as the audience would get a vibe for who she is as a person when she speaks her lines.  But, in the first act, it was as if Amanda was saying the lines without actually believing them, like she was only saying them for the sake of her children.  Intentional or not, but it felt fake, distanced me from the character, and made me check out emotionally.  The second act went from bad to worse:  instead of being bubbly and excited yet charming, Adams turned Amanda into a caricature.  She kept grabbing the bottom of her dress and lifting it in a motion that made me think she was about to break out into a cancan.  It was as if Amanda got so excited by the Jim’s visit, she lost every last bit of common sense.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say the acting was bad, but Adams completely missed the mark of who I think (and was taught!) Amanda is.

Having seen the Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe production with Isabelle Huppert last year (though, sadly, an online recording rather than a live performance, the latter having been cancelled at the Barbican due to Covid), I tried as best I could to approach this production with an open mind and avoid comparing Amy Adams to Huppert, but couldn’t help myself.  Huppert’s performance was a masterclass in putting all the raw emotions on display and seamlessly switching between every last one of them.  In contrast, Adam’s performance is artificial and doesn’t do much in helping us understand what genuinely drives her Amanda.

Hilton, Glynn-Carney, and Victor Alli (as Tom’s friend Jim) provided a reasonable supporting cast.  Hilton’s role in the play isn’t large enough to really stretch out and shine, which I know he can, having seen him in The Inheritance (the review for which appears to be missing from the blog).  Alli starts strong and adds a touch of allure to his scene with Laura, but wilts a little by the end of it.  Glynn-Carney left me wondering where Tom’s passion went.  His arguments with Amanda are loud and fiery, but I didn’t think that his longing to leave came through in anything but words.

What saves this show from being a slog is Lizzie Annis.  Between the limp, the shaking hands, and the eye-rolling with rapid blinking, her Laura is truly a delicate flower.  However, unlike Adams, Annis doesn’t take it too far, and so Laura never becomes a distortion of a real person.  This makes Laura the most sympathetic character here (a spot often reserved for Tom) and also one to give this production an extra layer of warmth and humanity.

One last thing that must be mentioned is the accents.  Holy smokes, they are not good.  Most of them are barely American, let alone Southern.  Adams tries a drawl here and there, but it’s distorted, inconsistent, and doesn’t sound right.  Half the time her “Laura” comes out as “Laura” indeed, but as “Lara” the rest of the time.  Others fall in and out of their attempted accents also.  This being the case, I think I would’ve just preferred everyone speaking how they speak natively and calling it a day.

Cheapskate enjoyment value: £1 (because of Annis, else it would’ve gone negative).

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