Any production starring Mandy McElhinney is well worth viewing. Just last night I watched Paper Giants for a third time, and I never would tire of seeing those Rhonda & Ketut ads on television a few years ago.
That McElhinney is at the centre of Black Swan State Theatre Company’s production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie – complete with insistent southern accent and vintage drag to die for – made seeing the production at His Majesty’s Theatre not only a delight, but a necessity.
If you’re not one for theatrical Americana, here is the gist of the play: a southern belle (Amanda Wingfield) only wants the best for her two children (Tom and Laura – him stuck working in a shoe factory; her a sufferer of cerebral palsy, albeit not as suffering as her worrying mother makes out). With her socialite adolescence behind her, Amanda puts her energies into pushing her children up the social and financial ladder from which she herself has fallen. And, boy, does she push, inviting gentleman callers around to palm her daughter off to, one in particular being a work colleague from the factory Tom works at.
The play is reportedly autobiographical, featuring characters based on Williams’ histrionic mother and his mentally fragile sister whom his mother constantly worries about not being able to marry off. Williams was even going to call the play The Gentleman Caller.
The play portrays not only the fragility of family relationships – of being pushed by loved ones to do something to the point of breaking – but reveals how old styles of courtship are evident even in today’s dating whirlpool.
Some critics might think The Glass Menagerie and its main plot of a woman trying to push her daughter into the arms of a suitable suitor is somewhat old-fashioned, perhaps even tone-deaf in an age when (a) feminism has reached a point where an adult woman is perfectly capable of finding her own partner, no matter what her physical status, and (b) we live in an age where efficient online communications mean anyone can meet and date anyone at anytime. However, the production is still relevant to the modern ways of dating. Just the notion of the matriarch putting on airs and graces in order to attract a partner for her daughter is akin to all the editing and hype that goes on in online dating, particularly on platforms such as Instagram, Tinder and the unfortunately titled Plenty of Fish. With or without the internet, men and women have always tried to put on a better face when it comes to courting and dating.
Director Clare Watson has done a delightful job in keeping an eye over this classic play, seeing to it that its original aesthetics remain intact while allowing for flashes of contemplation of the story’s relevancy to the here and now – which is a difficult thing to do since matriarch Amanda hardly allows for a second’s silence with all her relentless ranting. Which we love, remember, because it’s Mandy McElhinney doing all that talking.
Says Watson of the production: “It’s like we’re watching ourselves on VHS in a time when we were a little more glamorous and much more devil-may-care. Who’s at the door? Could that be the gentleman caller?”
Also starring in the play is Joel Jackson as Amanda’s son Tom Wingfield (Peter Allen: Not The Boy Next Door), along with Acacia Daken as Laura Wingfield (Lies Within Us) and Jake Fryer-Hornsby as the gentleman caller, Jim O’Connor (Halim, Dracula) in a tight but well-rounded cast. The small size of the cast makes it easy for viewers to follow the plot but also to truly see the divide in all four of its main characters.
With a set design that includes surtitles (that flash during the more poignant moments, each summing up scene themes nicely) – and with fabulous costumes curated by Fiona Bruce that reveal unique expressionism even in the midst of dire times (the play is set between the two world wars), The Glass Menagerie is as vivid and splendid a production as its main protagonist is vivacious and insistent in her pimping.
‘The Glass Menagerie’ is on at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth until August 21, 2022. Tickets are available through www.bsstc.com.au.