Set play

17th March 2000 at 00:00
The Glass Menagerie By Tennessee Williams Library Theatre, Manchester First put on in 1948, The Glass Menagerie is not only Tennessee Williams's most autobiographical play, but also a poignant exploration of the quiet despair of life during the 1930s Depression in America.

But, says director Roger Haines,"It's more than a tragedy - there's also a lot of humour, which mustn't be undervalued." Set in St Louis, the play is narrated by Tom, a budding writer who lives with his mother, Amanda, and disabled sister, Laura. While Amanda dwells on the past, when she was wealthy and entertained "gentlemen callers", Laura is lost in a fantasy world, playing with her miniature glass animals.

"The play is a classic piece of writing," says Haines, "poetic, lyrical - and it hasn't dated at all. The picture of the dysfunctional family is just as relevant and disturbing as ever." But although Laura is suffocated by her mother, Haines is "very keen to find the positive things" about her.

"Of course, she's disabled and painfully shy, and she finds it incredibly hard to live up to her mother's expectations, but she's also happy in her own world of the glass menagerie."

Being a memory play, The Glass Menagerie challenges its director to evoke the magic of a lost world. "We will be using a mister," says Haines,"which will create a slight haze, a feeling of remove."

The colour of the set is inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper and the background is painted with blue roses, "a eference to Laura's schooldays and also a symbol of theatrical magic".

"I'd really like to stage the row between Tom and Amanda in Scene Three behind a gauze screen," says Haines, "so you only see their shadows, and the focus of attention would be on Laura and her reactions to them."

Although the text specifies back projections of images which punctuate the action, Haines has decided not to use these "because they don't add much to the play's meaning". Instead he wants to conjure up "the tricks of memory," by using lighting, especially the effect of light passing through slats, "with actors going in and out of shadow".

The delicate equilibrium of the family is upset when Tom invites a friend from work, Jim, who Amanda hopes will be a suitable husband for Laura. "Once an all-American hero," says Haines, "Jim is himself slightly unsuccessful, which is what makes him compassionate and able to sympathise with Laura." But the visit turns into a fiasco because Jim is already engaged to be married, and Tom leaves home soon after. "Tom is driven basically by guilt and this makes him run away," says Haines, "but he's unable to exorcise the ghost of his sister, and is haunted all his life." If one of the play's lessons encourages us to face our responsibilities, another is derived from Williams's sense of compassion. In Haines's words, "Let each grow without suffocating the other. Allow each to be themselves."

From March 24 to April 22. Box office: 0161 236 7110

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