A closely observed family drama

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
Widely regarded as America's greatest playwright, Tennessee Williams drew strongly on personal and family experiences in The Glass Menagerie. The narrator Tom looks back to when he was a struggling writer working for a shoe company, frustrated by the tedium of a dead-end job.

He introduces us to the other characters, his mother Amanda, a fading southern belle, his disturbed and intensely shy sister Laura and a gentleman caller who succeeds only in shattering the little self-confidence Laura has.

Closely observed family relationships lie at the heart of this highly charged drama where the mother obstinately tries to mould her daughter on herself in order to marry her off while Tom continually attempts to escape the confines of his dysfunctional family through going to the movies and drinking.

Monica Dolan as Laura gives a brilliant performance, making every little gesture and expression, every verbal and physical stumble, count. By the end of the performance, she exudes pathos, holding herself like a broken doll as she sees the one chance of happiness walk out the door.

Indeed, under Polly Teale's direction all the cast give superb performances with Lois Baxter comically and tragically convincing as the fluttering mother unable to face both the grim realities of modern life and the kind of girl her daughter really is.

Emotive drama does not come much better than this. Set in a slum tenement during the Depression of the 1930s, history seems - to the narrator Tom - to be happening elsewhere while his own life marks time only in units of boredom and suppressed anger.

But what Williams shows us is the American Dream going pear-shaped and the individual sufferings and frustrations behind the statistics as he attempts to exorcise his own guilt over the fate of his real-life sister who was committed to an asylum.

Witty, ironical, satirical and deeply moving, this is a production in the not-to-be-missed category.

Raymond Ross

THE GLASS MENAGERIE. Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh. Until February 7

* There is a teach-in on Tuesday, February 3 from 4.30-6pm, free to schools booking to see The Glass Menagerie

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