In the back of my mind, there’s a vague fragment of a slither of a memory of having seen a production of “The Glass Menagerie” about twenty-five years ago (or more likely more) at a theatre in Brisbane. La Boite Theatre, maybe? Even so, my memory doesn’t extend much beyond the image of a woman sitting at the front of the stage obsessing over her small glass figurines. Without much of a memory beyond that, being Tennesee Williams, I just assumed there would have been repressed homosexual men with alcohol problems and unsatisfied women with mental health issues. I’m being silly of course, but you have to admit, these are characteristics you do find in other works by him including “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” which are two of my favouite plays of all time.
As we made our way to Belvoir Street Theatre last night, Sue read out loud the article on Wikipedia outlining the plot until the point where we both decided we had reached “spoiler” territory. But in short, and without a spoiler, it’s a play set in 1910/1920s America, the South, about a woman and her two children, none of whom are very happy with their lives. The mother was deserted by her husband many years ago, forcing her to raise her children by herself, both of whom she describes as “not normal”: the daughter has a slight disability, and the son goes out drinking most nights, with a slight suggestion he might also be homosexual. The plot-line centres around the mother’s desire for her daughter to be “married off before it’s too late”.
Before the play started last night the director came out to explain this was the first public preview after an intense week of technical rehearsals. “This could be really good or you might be witnessing one of the worst, most memorable moments of Australian theatre”, he joked. It was pretty evident shortly into the production why the technical rehearsals had been so intense: this production relies HEAVILY (in the first half at least) on video effects. Screens to the left and right of the stage feature images captured from on-stage cameras in the style, I’m guessing, of a 1940s movie. Sue and I both agreed the reliance on the narrator on stage to have to move the cameras around became distracting. We both found we sometimes spent more time watching him than we did watching the action on stage. The set, although really clever, was also a little distracting, as much of the action took place at the back of the stage behind a flimsy see-through curtain. We both really understood what they’re trying to achieve with the set and video, but it just didn’t do it for us.
Which is a shame, because it’s a really good play. “It’s much more complex than I’d imagined”, I whispered to Sue at one point. If you’ve grown up in a family with any degree of dysfunctionality, you’ll immediately realise how believably flawed the characters are. The performance by the actor who played the daughter, Laura was, in particular, really good: really honest, really authentic etc.
It will be interesting to see how audiences and critics judge the production as it opens in coming weeks, being mindful of what the director said last night.