Kate O’Flynn as Laura and Brian J Smith as Jim
(Photo: Johan Persson)
021 – The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams
The narrator tells us up front: “The play is memory. Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic….I am the narrator of the play and also a character in it. The other characters are my mother, Amanda, my sister Laura, and a gentleman caller who appears in the final scenes.” The narrator is Tom, an aspiring writer who is trapped in the “living death” of a job in a shoe factory and the claustrophobia of life in a small apartment in a tenement in St Louis with his mother and sister. The play which Tom narrates, and plays his part in, consists of a series of snapshots of the family’s life back in 1938, filtered through the emotional lens of Tom’s memory. The play is very much “a picture of my own heart”, as its author Tennessee Williams said about the intent of all of his play writing, and in this case it is a particularly personal portrait of Williams’ own family. The Glass Menagerie was Tennessee Williams’s breakthrough, opening in March 1945 on Broadway to rave reviews, and its box office success catapulted its 34-year old author to fame and fortune, a status affirmed two years later with the Broadway success of his most famous play A Streetcar Named Desire.
The Glass Menagerie is now a standard on educational curricula and in perennial theatrical revivals, loved for its heart wrenching portrayal of the hopes and disappointments of this flawed family, and admired for its theatrical technique and poetic dramatic language. The play was brilliantly staged in 2013 on Broadway in a production directed by John Tiffany, which was revived in 2017 in London’s West End, with Cherry Jones repeating her role as Amanda, and Kate O’Flynn giving an ethereal performance as Laura. I am absolutely delighted to be joined in this episode by the director John Tiffany to share his insights into this enduring classic.
John Tiffany is the winner of two Tony Awards, an Olivier, a Drama Desk and an Obie award as a director and his productions have earned countless other award nominations and wins. His recent work includes Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in both London and New York (Tony and Olivier Awards for Best Direction of a Play); The Glass Menagerie (A.R.T., Broadway and West End); The Ambassador (BAM); Pinocchio (National Theatre); Once (Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical). For the National Theatre of Scotland he directed Let the Right One In (also Royal Court, West End and St. Ann’s Warehouse); Macbeth (also Lincoln Center and Broadway); Enquirer; The Missing; Peter Pan; The House of Bernarda Alba; The Bacchae (also Lincoln Center); Black Watch (Olivier Award for Best Director); Elizabeth Gordon Quinn; Home: Glasgow. As Associate Director at the Royal Court Theatre, productions include The End of History, Road, The Twits, Hope and The Pass. He was educated at the University of Glasgow (M.A. in Theatre and Classics). John was founding Associate Director at the National Theatre of Scotland from 2005–2012 and a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University from 2010–2011.
Our Footnotes to The Glass Menagerie include Tennessee Williams’ innovative ideas about lighting as an element of what he called his “plastic drama”; the endearing ambiguity of the character of Jim, the gentleman caller; the infinite distance of memory; and the explosive times the play was written and set in.
It is 1789 and a group of convicts in the newly-founded colony of Botany Bay in Australia are assembled to put on a production of George Farquhar’s Restoration Comedy The Recruiting Officer. The true story of this unlikely theatrical enterprise is the subject of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s award-winning play, Our Country’s Good, which premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in 1988 almost exactly 200 years after the events it portrays. The play is a vivid portrait of the volatile new settlement in New South Wales, which raises timeless questions about what makes for a country’s good: the exercise of justice, the iniquities of class, the value of education and culture, and particularly of the redemptive power of theatre itself.
It made complete logical sense to follow our last episode on The Recruiting Officer with this wonderful play, and even more sense to invite Director Matt Beresford back to talk us through it.
George Farquhar’s rollicking Restoration Comedy The Recruiting Officer is ostensibly a portrait of officers engaged in the nefarious art of impressing men into the army in the country town of Shrewsbury, but it is as much a tale of the local ladies themselves recruiting for lovers and husbands. The classic comic satire of love and war, and sex and deception was first performed at Drury Lane in 1706, and went on to become one of the most frequently performed plays of the 18th century and a staple of education curricula and theatre programming ever since.
Director Matt Beresford joins us to assess the ‘recruiting officers” respective strategies and successes.
Tom Stoppard’s ambitious new play Leopoldstadt is a sweeping work of history and ideas which charts the diaspora and decline of an Austrian Jewish family through the convulsive events of the first half of the twentieth century. It addresses profound moral questions of identity, memory and prejudice that are insistently relevant in our time. It is not only a towering intellectual achievement, it is also very personally poignant because it is based partly on Stoppard’s own remarkable family history.
Leopoldstadt opened in the West End in January 2020, only to be closed prematurely by the pandemic a few weeks later. Happily it has returned to the London stage this Autumn, and I am privileged and delighted to talk in this episode with the director of the London productions, playwright Patrick Marber.
Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.
Another great mix of shows this month, from Tom Stoppard’s new play, to Ibsen, Beckett and newer plays in smaller London venues.
The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country …