Theatre in Wales

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At Theatr Pena

The Glass Menagerie , The Riverfront, Newport , February 14, 2016
At Theatr Pena by The Glass Menagerie The simple subtlety of Erica Eirian’s directing takes us on an absorbing journey through Tennessee Williams’ exquisite play of lost human souls in America’s Deep South in the bleak days of the 1930s. The play is based on Williams’ real life experiences. Tom the narrator, in the play, is a representation of Williams himself. Rhys Meredith, in a commanding and highly watchable performance tells us “I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."

This overwhelming illusion permeates the two-hour passing of this deeply compelling narrative. The strength of the production comes from refined creativity of every member of the Theatre Pena ensemble. Holly McCarthy’s magical stripped-back set with Kay Haynes’ dynamic lighting and Peter J Knight’s music, that penetrates our minds, bring an almost filmic atmosphere and creates a tension that grips us throughout the performance.

It is the wonder and commitment of the cast, four lost people all frustrated by life but all caring for one and another and making us all care very much for them that holds us. It is the way the play continually catches us emotionally that gives it a unique strength. So real, yet as Williams describes in a note in his script, “ the scene is memory and is therefore non-realistic.”

There is a wistfulness in every character but most strongly so in Tom and Amanda’s mother, Amanda. Rosamund Shelley gives this faded Southern Belle a gentle obsessiveness, a yearning hopefulness that really gets under the fingernails of her children and at times under ours in the audience. The strength of character and the strength of the performance are totally captivating.

Picking up this totally enthralling manner of acting, as the limping, mentally fragile and self isolating Amanda, Eiry Thomas gives us such a totally enriching and perfect realization of this delicate personality.

Tom, a frustrated poet just wants to get away from it all, to become a long time missed member of the family, just like his father but is held back by his concern for his mother and sister. But it’s all going to be OK. The Gentleman Caller, that Tom has mentioned in his opening speech to us, has arrived. Jim is full of self-belief and charm. Another beautiful and very fine performance from Gareth Pierce. He works in the warehouse with Tom, calls him Shakespeare. Slowly Amanda warms to him, slowly she moves closer to him. They sit looking into her glass menagerie collection. She remembers him from school. They dance, they kiss. It’s clear that Amanda has never ventured this far out of her shell, ever! They stumble. Jim has accidently broken the horn of the glass unicorn that Amanda has shown him.

Williams brings many moments of symbolism and poetry into his writing. It is the simple, yet sublime artistry that he brings to the work and the sensitivity and commitment of this splendid cast that makes a visit to Theatr Pena’s beautiful and very moving production of Tennessee Williams Glass Menagerie a fine and fulfilling experience.

For touring visit

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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