I come from a New Town in West Lothian.
Livingston sprung up to deal with the population overspill from Scotland’s cities in the 60’s and over a period of thirty years gradually ate its way into the green belt between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
It was sold as a promised land. Where provisions would be world class and your kids could go to school and be surrounded by like-minded future visionaries. In reality, it was a cultural wasteland with gang violence and one independent record shop. Certainly, no place for a fledgling poofter to take flight.
As such, last night I found myself standing in awe, in the middle of Times Square waiting to head into a show. Not just because I’m in town working for the biggest arts festival in the world, but despite the odds, the show I’m seeing is directed by a man responsible for my continued love of theatre since my yoof (John Tiffany), and choreographed by another, who 18 years ago taught me some basics principles of physical theatre that informed most of my creative work since (Steven Hoggett).
The American Repertory Theatre production of The Glass Menagerie is what can only be fairly described as a masterpiece. In it, Zachary Quinto, Cherry Jones and Celia Keenan-Bolger deliver career defining performances. Hoggett’s wonderfully paired down movement direction underscored with a beautifully haunting soundtrack by Clive Goodwin and Nico Muhly is reminiscent of his earlier works with Frantic Assembly and of course, who wouldn’t be bowled over by the direction from the man who brought the world Black Watch.
Of course, central to the success of this show is the wonderful writing.
Though The Glass Menagerie catapulted Tennessee Williams to fame, I think that it’s always played second or third fiddle to his other works.
The fascinating thing about the piece over Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire is that it is largely autobiographical and gives an amazing insight into the life and torment of the young writer. The characters and story mimic Williams’s own life, Williams (whose real name was Thomas) would be Tom, his mother, Amanda, and Laura, his sister Rose.
The dynamic between these three cast members is absolutely awe inspiring. In a time of reality TV stars and famous idiots, spending 2 and half hours in a room with these guys makes you realise there’s a reason that some people become famous. They are as skilled on stage as they are on screen and you feel that Tiffany has got the absolute best out of them all.
And then comes Brian J Smith, the 4th and final cast member. I’ve always struggled with the inclusion of the Gentleman Caller (a previously existing short story by Williams) in the Glass Menagerie. It seems lazy and to be brutally honest takes focus away from the brilliant characters. Throughout the duration of this scene, I continue to hope for a glimpse into the other room, where Laura’s mother and brother speculate as to what’s going on. Alas, it’s a tad too late for Williams to heed my advice and rewrite, so what I will say of this scene is that Smith and Keenan-Bolger own it. If Kelly Rowland was in the room, she’d have stood up at the curtain and screamed YOU PUT IT DOWN GURLS. YOU PUT IT ALL THE WAY DOWN!
Knowing now what we do of Williams’ and his sexuality, one can’t help watch this production with morbid fascination as Tom is tormented by the shackles of responsibility set against a backdrop off oppression. A rather gritty insight into cruising culture back in the day makes for interesting subplots as Tom repetitively stumbles home late each night from movies and bars leading a closeted double life.
The Glass Menagerie plays The Edinburgh International Festival this August.
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