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The Glass Menagerie review at the Riverfront, Newport – ‘moments of vision’

Menagerie at the Riverfront, Newport Photo: Simon Gough Eiry Thomas and Gareth Pierce in The Glass Menagerie at the Riverfront, Newport. Photo: Simon Gough
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Theatr Pena is company committed to creating opportunities for women in theatre. With its production of Tennessee Williams’s 20th century classic, The Glass Menagerie, it’s fulfilling this aim, but despite moments of vision, this is a production lacking in polish.

It’s not without potential. All the right pieces are there; what’s missing is a sense of intimacy and claustrophobia, particularly in the first half. Holly McCarthy’s set design – a lavish Southern home bathed in blue – and Kay Haynes’ lighting combine to create a beautifully ethereal atmosphere but the production struggles to make an impact in a space of this size. It feels static and rigid.

The actors, for their part, do a very strong job. Rhys Meredith gives a magnetic scene-stealing performance as Tom, while Rosamund Shelley plays overbearing matriarch Amanda Wingfield with just the right amount of melancholy. The introduction of Gareth Pierce as gentleman caller Jim breathes life into the second half of the production, and the whole thing is salvaged by a truly exceptional final scene between him and Eiry Thomas’s Laura. After her acclaimed performance in The Royal Bed last year, also for Theatr Pena, Thomas proves yet again that she is one of the best actors working in Wales at the moment. Her portrayal of Laura is somehow both fragile and physical. Her body is incredibly eloquent and she’s able to say as much with the arch of her back as she is with the words coming out of her mouth.

It’s a brilliant scene but nothing else in Erica Eirian’s production quite matches it. There is certainly much to admire about Theatr Pena’s latest offering, not the least Thomas’s performance, but the show as a whole only flickers.

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Flawed staging of Tennessee Williams’s classic rescued by a strong second half