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The Glass Menagerie review at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘beautifully performed’

Kate O'Flynn and Seth Numrich in The Glass Menagerie at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Johan Persson Kate O'Flynn and Seth Numrich in The Glass Menagerie at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Johan Persson

Memories have long arms. They never quite let you go. John Tiffany’s American Repertory Theater production of The Glass Menagerie comes to the Edinburgh International Festival partially recast but with Cherry Jones once again donning Amanda Wingfield’s cotillion dress.

It’s a piece as much about forgetting as it is about remembering – a dance-like, dream-like, ambered and rose-hued production, the whole thing lit like a late summer afternoon by Natasha Katz.

Laura first emerges from the furniture like a wraith, like an exhalation. She’s pulled into being by her brother Tom, the aspiring writer who dreams of ditching his warehouse job and the oppressive St Louis apartment he shares with his desperately shy sister and overbearing mother.

Jones’ matriarch is anxious for her children to do well in the world, but her anxieties are tangled up in her own memories of her Southern youth, and the charmed life she used to lead. Jones delivers a performance of considerable size but also of subtlety. It’s a big role, and she plays it accordingly, but it’s also a performance full of care and humanity. In Jones’ hands, Amanda is not a cartoon. There’s a degree of self-knowledge to her.

Kate O’Flynn’s Laura, with her slight squeak of a voice and rigid movements, her self-enforced smallness, is also quite marvellous. Her eventual unfurling is wonderful to watch. And, oh, those candlelit scenes when the gentleman comes calling are both beautiful and painful.

Seth Numrich’s Jim is pin-perfect. He’s golden and charming, full of gee-whizz and American pep. He’s a bit nervy to begin with but has an easy way about him. He’s also kind and perceptive. He’s a good soul with good intentions, and the scenes in which he draws Laura out of herself, granting her release from the tin prison of her self-consciousness, are enchanting.

Though Jones is often a dominant presence on stage, the acting throughout is fine and precise, with Michael Esper’s restless Tom also strong.

Designer Bob Crowley has created a ziggurat of a fire escape that zig-zags up to the heavens. It’s incredibly striking and looks a bit like a unicorn’s horn. There’s also a pool of blackish liquid on stage, but it’s all but invisible from the stalls and it’s hard to gauge its full visual effect as a result.

Tiffany’s production is full of intriguing choreographic touches care of movement director Steven Hoggett, his collaborator on Once, Black Watch and, latterly, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. These include little rituals of the kitchen and the supper table and tiny apartment dances. They bring a gentle edge of the uncanny to proceedings.

The attention to detail – physical and psychological – throughout is considerable, and the production works that particular magic of taking something familiar and making it grip you anew.

John Tiffany’s production of The Glass Menagerie is at Duke of York’s Theatre, London, from January 26–April 29, 2017

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Verdict
Richly textured and beautifully performed account of Tennessee Williams’ memory play
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