Edinburgh Fringe 2018
A vibrant version of Tennessee Williams’ classic study of a family trying to stay afloat in 1930’s America.
The challenge for a youth theatre company taking on a classic like “The Glass Menagerie” is to deliver credible performances, with a degree of emotional understanding, even though the subject matter may be unfamiliar or beyond their direct experience. Le Broq Theatre Company, bring Tennessee William’s tale to vibrant life – and it sets a high bar.
This is one of Williams’ “Memory Plays” – as the narrator informs us at the beginning – and as such is unreliable – “Yes, 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.”
Partly autobiographical, the play deals with the challenges faced by the Wingfield family in 1937 St Louis. Tom yearns to be a poet but works in a shoe warehouse to support his mother and sister. Mother, Amanda, is a faded Southern belle, desperate to secure a future for him – and for her crippled daughter Laura, who has given up on her course at a business college and finds solace in her collection of glass animals that gives the play its title.
Philip Poole’s neatly understated design sets the tone before the performers enter – the family laundry drying and the dominating photograph of the family’s absent father (who, as his son tells us, “fell in love with long-distance”) already conjure the oppressive atmosphere of the apartment they share.
Charlie Purbrook’s Tom is relaxed and confident from the start, equally at home as the narrator, or the downtrodden son. His accent is impressively maintained (all the cast share this quality) and he has a nice turn as a gentle drunk, trying to explain to his sister the need for him to escape the claustrophobia of home – by going “to the movies”.
It’s always a big ask for a young actor to step into a matriarch’s shoes but Imogen Smith’s Amanda is well-centred and possesses the necessary gravitas to control the proceedings. Her range is impressive; there’s a present threat when she orders Laura to the table to meet Jim – but flips mercurially to reveal a softer side. Her dreamy recollections of attending balls in times gone by (and her very own “gentlemen callers” besieging her house in her youth) also carry regret and are accompanied by a casual toss of her faded silk scarf.
Megan Meeks’ Laura is a deftly understated study of the painfully shy girl who had dreams of falling in love, but is trapped (physically and psychologically) by her disability and “clumping” leg-brace. Her encounter with high-school-crush Jim, (now working with her brother, who has engineered the meeting under the instruction of his mother) is suitably gut-wrenching. Jim’s flat-footed dance-moves are as gauche as his attempts to steal a kiss – and Robbie Lees injects a nice energy into the latter end of the piece and provides a good counterpoint to the Wingfields. He’s made a decision – his engagement to Betty (for better or worse) – so he’s going somewhere at least – and his exit is perhaps the last we will see of any “gentlemen callers” for Laura. Maybe Tom might find the courage to follow him with his newly acquired Merchant Seamen’s Union card, but we all fear that the Wingfields are trapped in that apartment.
The piece is tightly directed by Claudine Sinnett and sensitively cut to an hour’s running time – so neatly done that you don’t really miss anything from the original. It’s very engaging and a delight to see these young actors stretching their wings. This is Le Broq’s first visit to Edinburgh and there is much promise here for the future.