Set play

26th May 2000 at 01:00
THE GLASS MENAGERIE. By Tennessee Williams. Hull Truck Theatre.

Set in St Louis and first performed in 1948, The Glass Menagerie is Tennessee Williams's most autobiographical play, and tells in flashback the story of Tom, a would-be writer who breaks away from his domineering mother, Amanda, after failing to find a suitable "gentleman caller", or fiance, for his shy and disabled sister, Laura.

"I like the play's central idea of illusion and disillusion," says playwright and director John Godber, "and the fact that it doesn't try to pretend that it's not a play."

Underlining the idea that the play is about "how big your internal world is", his production "takes place in a black box, with the audience on three sides watching it through a black gauze".

The effect is that of looking into another world. Because the play "admits its artifice", you can interpret this many ways. "For example, the box is Tom's mind and memory."

Tom is dressed in the costume of a sailor in the National Union of Seamen throughout the entire show, even though he only goes to sea at the end of the play. "There will be no attempt to forget that it's a memory play," Godber says. Amanda, Laura and Jim (a friend of Tom's from work, who Amanda hopes will become Laura's fiance) "will be dressed naturalistically in 1930s dress, but th music will be Bing Crosby, from the 1940s, when the play was written".

Laura is lost in her fantasy world of miniature glass animals, and her predicament is "what is achingly touching about the play", he says. "You have to feel for her - and for Amanda's desperation in trying to sort her out."

Laura is "content in her own way, but only when she doesn't look over the fence. She has no confidence in ever attracting a 'gentleman caller'; she doesn't want to compete."

When Jim tries to restore Laura's confidence by kissing her, "you have to ask yourself whether he is doing the right thing". Since he's already engaged to marry someone else, it "is an absolute bastard thing to do.

"Although he is trying to help, he's causing more trouble than he realises - he's tragically unaware of the consequences of his own actions."

In some respects, Godber says, there is a huge amount of sentimentality in the play, but this is balanced by the desperation of its characters, including Amanda. Tom, who "gets fed up with watching adventure in the movies" leaves home "so that he can have adventures himself". And Williams is making a point about poverty when Tom uses the money for the electricity bill to enroll in the navy.

Aleks Sierz. The Glass Menagerie runs from June 1 to 17. Box office: 01482 323638

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