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The Glass Menagerie review at Nuffield Theatre, Southampton – ‘works prodigiously well’

Danny Lee Wynter in The Glass Menagerie at Nuffield Theatre, Southampton. Photo: Bill Knight Danny Lee Wynter in The Glass Menagerie at Nuffield Theatre, Southampton. Photo: Bill Knight
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Samuel Hodges has been in post as director and chief executive at the Nuffield since 2013, but The Glass Menagerie is his first showing as a director.

Tennessee Williams’ 1944 memory play is not an obvious choice for this theatre, which has a remit for new writing, but Hodges does an impressive job and his production is illuminating.

Hodges overlays Williams’ original stage directions on slides and lighting with enough 21st-century technology to threaten the play’s delicacy. Instead, it throws its themes of shattered dreams and disappointment into heartbreaking relief, and a production that could have been purely tricksy works prodigiously well.

Danny Lee Wynter’s apologetic Tom Wingfield is rarely on stage, even when his character is involved in the scene. Amanda (Belinda Lang) addresses the space he should occupy but his absence serves only to emphasise the disconnect between then and now.

For much of the play, Wynter’s Tom is stationed in the auditorium as stage manager and ringmaster, orchestrating lighting, sound and projections – captions, photographs, movies and live video – on to the giant screens that cover the stage.

These slide open and shut in the manner of camera apertures – in fact, the whole effect is cinematic, highlighting Tom’s obsession with the movies as an escape.

Even the minimal furniture that designer Ultz puts into the Wingfield’s apartment is grey or sepia-toned in candlelight – it’s as though all Tom’s fractured memories are monotone.

Lang’s shrill, hectoring Amanda – all mutton dressed as lamb, steely Southern charm and sad desperation – is fabulous, and there is fine work from Pearl Chanda, as the emotionally fragile Laura, and Wilf Scolding, as her “gentleman caller”.

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Verdict
Samuel Hodges' directorial debut at Nuffield illuminates darker corners of Williams' memory play of shattered dreams and disappointment
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