The Glass Menagerie has been staged more times than I could possibly count. However, I went in with zero expectations having not seen it in any of its previous incarnations. Where better to see it than the stunning Royal Exchange Theatre, truly a hidden gem, an incredible in the round theatre in the centre of Manchester. This is the play which catapulted Tennessee Williams into the public conscience.
Our protagonist Tom Wingfield takes us on a trip through his memories. He asks us to consider which memories are fully true and which are only partially remembered. His mother, Amanda Wingfield, is almost resentful of the hand life has dealt her. Once a southern belle with many gentleman callers, she is now without husband, living in a flat with her two older children. Her disabled daughter Laura is extremely shy and her mother worries that she will never find a man. Laura finds escapism from her lives through a collection of glass animals, her glass menagerie. Tom is made to feel like he can't leave home until Laura is a kept and married woman. At his mother’s request, Tom invites his colleague Jim to their home as a potential match for Laura.
As you step into the theatre a huge Instagram worthy neon sign with the word 'paradise' across it takes centre stage. This serves as an ironic reminder that the characters' lives are anything but. Like the sign, paradise is something that is always out of their grasp whilst peering over them. They all look longingly at it as they enter, each wishing for a happier life. As the play unravels the sign is almost a character itself, changing speed, direction and colour beautifully in correlation with the tone of what is happening on stage. In fact, Lee Curran's lighting is one of the true stars of this show, cleverly invoking emotion throughout. The set is otherwise minimal yet effective, with only the use of a few chairs and microphones.
Atri Banerjee's expertly directed production is majestic and utterly captivating from beginning to end. Perhaps the most moving moment is the stunning fantasy scene where Laura and Jim dance together to Whitney Houston’s ‘One Moment in Time’. This helps give a modern yet timeless feeling to the historic play which first played to audiences 78 years ago. In fact, I listened to the song itself on my drive home and they couldn't have picked a more perfect fit lyrically. Whilst providing real warmth and humour to begin with, it ended up heart-breaking when we realise it was just a fantasy.
The Glass Menagerie is at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester until 08/10/2022.