There is something very intimate about acting in candle light. Even in a theatre as voluminous as The Wightman, the light cast by a single candelabra closes down the space, focusing the action and the audience’s minds. The actors can be cosy and intimate and say things their characters wouldn’t mention in the glare of a spotlight, and can play with their own shadows on the wall. It’s an old trick (even when enhanced by subtle support from the lighting board) and, in The Wightman Company’s new production of ‘The Glass Menagerie’, it works wonderfully to bestow upon the scene at the very heart of the play an almost dream like quality for Emily Hurdiss (as Laura Wingfield) and Lucas Smith (as her innocent gentleman caller) to revel in.
Tennessee Williams’ autobiographical, memory play was his first big hit in 1944 and the characters draw heavily upon his own family members. They are real people put up on stage, and in Adrian Monahan’s production it’s the realism that shines through, even though the members of the fractured family are each in their own dysfunctional dream world.
Mother (in a strong and purposefully overbearing performance by Carol Caffrey) is still trying to rule over her two adult children. She just can’t stop herself from telling her son how to eat at table or urging her disabled daughter to find a man; busy bodying her way through life on a raft of assumptions.
William Holstead is lithe, lively, loud and unashamedly large-scale as her son Tom (based on Williams himself); with more than enough energy to scoop the audience into his hands to lead us into and out of the play. Much of Tom’s time is spent escaping to the movies. When, at home, he loses his rag in frustration, he loses it good and proper; with enough power and panache to unsettle the diners in Carluccio’s next door.
Shrewsbury’s Emily Hurdiss puts in a marvellously controlled performance as his tremblingly shy sister whose world revolves around her collection of crystal animals and melancholy records. When she has to hold centre stage for some time, with no lines to deliver, the subtly of her movement is quite mesmerising.
Then the fourth character, Jim O’Conner, strides into their faded apartment as the ‘gentleman caller’ who has come for supper. Lucas Smith’s assuredly charming and caring performance somersaults the whole play from bickering belligerence to the gentle pursuit of fine ideals. The lights fuse, the candles are lit and he communicates with Laura in a way that no one else ever has. It’s a beautifully executed scene; the best delivery of it I’ve ever witnessed.
The one tiny weakness is that the allegorical glass menagerie itself feels somewhat side-lined. With a little lighting, it too could shine when Laura needs the comfort it affords.
But, make no mistake, this is an excellent, well-directed professional production of a highly captivating play, performed by an exciting cast who surefootedly release the hidden humour of the piece. This should go a long way to sealing The Wightman’s status as Shrewsbury’s ‘other’ theatre.
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