Recommended NZ | Guide to Money | Gimme: Competitions - Giveaways

Review: The Glass Menagerie

Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

I went to The Glass Menagerie at the Selwyn Theatre knowing three things about the production: it’s a play by Tennessee Williams; theatre doyenne Elizabeth Hawthorne was cast in it; it was potentially about hope.

Premiering in Chicago in 1944, The Glass Menagerie has had many incarnations, starring everyone from Sarah Paulson, Jessica Lange and Christian Slater to Cherry Jones, Zachary Quinto and Celia Keenan-Bolger in the highly-anticipated American Repertory Theater production starting September 2013 on Broadway. Laurette Taylor is widely lauded as giving one of the most-remembered pieces of acting on the American stage when she originated the role of Amanda Wingfield.

The Auckland Theatre Company production follows an aspiring poet, Tom, as he “reluctantly works in a shoe warehouse to support his overbearing, faded-Southern-belle mother and desperately shy sister, Laura. Pushed by his mother, he finds Laura a gentleman caller to try to coax her from her fragile private world.”

Tom (Edwin Wright) and his mother Amanda (Elizabeth Hawthorne) have angry, relentless tension between them from the get-go. You understand immediately that living with his mother is not his choice, this is not his place, and the only reason he stays is a sense of obligation towards his painfully shy, socially and physically crippled sister, Laura (Antonia Prebble.)

Tom is both the narrator of the story and a character in the story, and as he explains to us, his absent father is present as a shadow that pulls on all of them – especially Tom, who longs to follow his father’s path to freedom but is chained to his mother and sister by circumstance and by his relationship with them both.

Wright carries the story forward well, maintaining that tense, almost-adolescent warring with Amanda by turns in silence and in full-blown animosity. He also plays to the audience for comic effect, with eye rolls, heavenward glances – you do feel sorry for the guy, with a mother like Amanda. He also portrays the warring within himself to good effect – should he stay or go? The helplessness, and the rage at his helplessness comes through well. They are none of them terribly sympathetic characters, but the moments of comedy and empathy from this trio capture you for the entire performance.

“In memory, everything seems to happen to music.” Tom offers this in his opening monologue, and his words are punctuated by 1930’s music – a radio flicking between channels, a victrola playing records, strains of dance hall music floating into the house from across the street. Music plays a vivid part in the play but doesn’t overpower the performance. Likewise the set design is sparse but rife with symbolism – the scenes with the light flowing through the glass menagerie are just beautiful. Costume design is right on the money – Amanda’s Southern belle dress from her heyday was hilarious and oddly sad all at once.

Antonia Prebble as Laura was a good surprise; I’m used to her playing feisty characters so it was definitely different to see her playing someone who is so blank on the surface. I came to the conclusion I shouldn’t have been surprised– Prebble can act. Prebble’s performance engenders sympathy for Laura and empathy for her mother and brother who are left to cope with the consequences of her afflictions – the highlight of her performance for me was the few minutes where everything Laura is below the surface is allowed to be seen; and she was beautiful. So well done and very enjoyable.

Richard Knowles as the gentleman caller brings a cocky assurance to his character; making him slowly three-dimensional with ease during his scene; he plays off Prebble well and they really did have me believing in them.

Finally, Elizabeth Hawthorne as Amanda has got to be one of my favourite performances of anything, hands down. She’s frenzied and charming and gracious and cutting and critical; calculating, manipulative, mesmerising turn after dizzying turn. As each second ticks by you don’t know whether to adore her or hate her; but you do know that this is one Southern belle you completely believe in and you are holding your breath to see what she’s going to do next.

Hawthorne turns out an amazing performance with this character. The audience could so easily dislike Amanda but Hawthorne brings her humanity through; so much so that if there was a New Zealand theatre Tony Awards I’d vote her for Best Actress every time. If you go to see this performance for no other reason, go to see Hawthorne play Amanda Wingfield– she has the audience spellbound in the palm of her hand the entire time.

The Glass Menagerie is about family; about the things we expect from each other; the things we expect from ourselves. It’s a tragedy, it’s a comedy, and yes, it certainly is about hope.

The Glass Menagerie is selling fast and only a few performances are left: don’t miss out.


What: The Glass Menagerie, Auckland Theatre Company

Where: Venue changed to Selwyn Theatre, Kohimarama

Book: Via Maidment Theatre site, now until Saturday June 8th, 2013

Who: American guest Director Jef Hall-Flavin - Artistic Director of the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, Playwright Tennessee Williams, Actors Elizabeth Hawthorne, Antonia Prebble, Edwin Wright, Richard Knowles



All articles and comments on have been submitted by our community of users. Please notify us if you believe an item on this site breaches our community guidelines.