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The Glass Menagerie: Delicacy and tenderness but overwrought moments, too

Theatre: It is impossible not to try guess what director Emma Jordan was aiming in terms of vocal style and script

Laura's mild disability left her quailing with shyness and with only the consolatory fictions of tiny glass animals. Photograph: Darragh Kane

The Glass Menagerie

Everyman, Cork

New productions of old and familiar plays must attempt both to appease those who love the work and to enthral newcomers. The Glass Menagerie is ridden with strife, yet the writing of Tennessee Williams invests it with memorable delicacy, a quality established in this Everyman presentation by Ciaran Bagnall’s amber-tinted lighting and, perhaps to a lesser extent, by Peter Power’s composition and sound. It is impossible, however, not to try guess what director Emma Jordan was aiming at when allowing the vocal style that defies almost every nuance of a carefully balanced script.

First produced in 1944 and set in 1930, the play presents Amanda Wingfield, long deserted by the husband who charmed her away from the southern United States’ blue mountains of her youth. She is left with her son, Tom, who is boiling with frustration at his confinement to his family’s dependence on his wages and her adult daughter, Laura, whose mild disability has left her quailing with shyness and with only the consolatory fictions of her collection of tiny glass animals.

As a mother, Amanda is reminiscent of Mrs Bennett in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a heroine determined to secure the future of her undowered daughters at the risk of ridicule or caricature. Although sisters under the skin, they work from different viewpoints, Amanda’s being that of her blue remembered hills. How much of her chronic nostalgia may be invented is uncertain but in Natalie Radmall-Quirke’s interpretation, it is a dream world of ball gowns and beaux, the so-called gentlemen callers. The Wingfields are not white trash but they are white and they are poor, a perilous condition driving Amanda’s toxic desperation.

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As even the gentle, repressed Laura is given to shrieks of anxiety, the strident velocity of this first act leaves one longing for the second, in the hope of some moderation. All concerned are working hard, not least in having to climb repeatedly the three ladders of Bagnall’s allegorical fire escape setting. The missing quietude arrives with, in fact, the gentleman caller. In the person of Lorcan Strain, the gentleman invites Laura to some consciousness of herself as an individual rather than as a shrinking shadow of her mother’s ravings.


There is an almost palpable tenderness here as the pair create possibilities of a future rather than a past. Worked in candlelight, the emotional depth of the writing and playing redeems what has been overwrought in what seems basically a misreading – although it must be said that if Radmall-Quirke’s performance is a misreading, she holds to it with conviction, her jonquil monologue a triumph of drawling enunciation.

If Radmall-Quirke’s performance is a misreading, she holds to it with conviction. Photograph: Darragh Kane

A graceful figure in herself, Radmall-Quirke overembellishes her speeches with gestures. It is a futile punctuation, especially as diction is one of the victims of the many long and complex sentences faltering through the American tones.

While the comic notes are well caught, there are also effects: the use of veiled curtaining allows an image of Laura poised like a crucifixion with her mother kneeling at her feet. She’s only hemming a skirt but we get it. Again, behind the veiling, something like white ectoplasm rises and falls sympathetically as the later dialogue intensifies to crisis. Crisis is the atmosphere, however, not affection.

Continues at the Everyman, Cork, until Saturday, August 26th

Mary Leland

Mary Leland is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture