Faded Southern belles and pumped-up kicks: this week’s theatre highlights

The revival of Tennessee Williams’s 1944 family drama The Glass Menagerie seems smaller than life, but Abbie Spallen’s 2006 monologue play Pumpgirl has a full tank of wit

The Glass Menagerie
Gate Theatre, Dublin. Until Jun 7.30pm (Sat mat 2.30pm) gate-theatre.ie

Memory is like quicksand in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie: it swallows each of its characters whole. The play is framed as the recollections of Marty Rea’s nicely dissipated Tom, who informs us, “it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.”

The Gate’s muted new production doesn’t have too much more to add, conjuring up the broken family’s neurotic home life with sparing detail, where fretful mother Amanda (Samantha Bond) is adrift in memories of her “gentleman callers” and looming anxieties, sister Laura (Zara Devlin), lame and insecure, withdraws into similarly fragile glass figurines, and even an ambitious work pal, a new gentleman caller, is ready to slip into the glories of yesteryear. Given the familiarity of the approach, that might go for the Gate too, which here seems nostalgic for its old programming policy.

If there is a more compelling reason to stage the play today, director and designer Tom Cairns doesn't stress it, toning down Tennessee's busier details (a flutter of images are either noted or ignored) while adding awkward embellishments, such as a translucent enclosure which is easier to interpret than it is to look at. It also obscures the tension and the performances, making the "unrealistic" figures somehow smaller than life, their memory glowing faintly. The Southern belle is not the only thing that seems faded.

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Pumpgirl
Ballina Arts Centre, Co Mayo May 11; Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin May 12; Town Hall Theatre, Galway May 14; Hawkswell Theatre, Sligo May 16; Riverbank, Kildare May 17; Backstage, Longford May 18 decadenttheatrecompany.ie

Although it takes place in a border town of south Armagh, Abbie Spallen’s breakout success of 2006 might be set on the edge of nowhere. The three speakers of its interwoven monologues – a tomboy who works in the petrol station (hence the title), a local petrolhead with whom she is having an affair, “No Helmet” Hammy, and his jilted, vengeful wife, Sinead – engage in unwise behaviour, to put the matter mildly, because they are otherwise starved of opportunities.

With a wicked wit and no sentimentality, Spallen shows you how an otherwise sharp young woman might consider Hammy “pure class”, while he himself, a love-’em-and-leave-’em type, demonstrates none. Sinead, ushered into some infidelity of her own, fantasises about enacting grisly revenge worthy of a song. “I could call it And I’m Praying for a Female Judge.”

Decadent Theatre, more familiar than many with monologue formats, answer some prayers themselves by restaging Spallen in this touring production, expanding the horizons of what was becoming a boys’ club, and providing another opportunity for Pumpgirl’s wit to flow.