The Byre is a demanding space to work in; the rigors of working in a theatre with such little get-in time cannot be understated. But those rigors cannot and should not define the space within it, which is why it troubles me to see, after a string of inventive and clever manipulations, a show misuse the space so dramatically. Glass Menagerie’s issues lie in its production, with a design that does not use the space effectively and staging that keeps the show’s strong points hidden. And while the acting is strong, it simply didn’t have the room to breathe, preventing the show from being anything more than average.
The Glass Menagerie is Tennessee Williams’ timeless tale of familial struggles and power imbalance in 1930s St. Louis. It is some of Williams’ more indulgent work, with the theme of a Memory Play giving it a dreamlike, emotional quality in reading. This can allow for some clever, innovative designs; something which is played with in the hanging of origami “glass” figurines from the ceiling in Act 2. But for that first act, and throughout the play, the action takes place on an extremely narrow, visually uninteresting raised platform, which feels entirely out of place on the Byre stage. Actors struggled to get past chairs placed directly in front of exits and entrances and were invisible from certain angles as they were sat at an awkward table on stage right. This would have been acceptable had there been greater use of the stage in front of the platform, but apart from a few monologues from the main character, it went entirely out of use – begging the question, why raise the stage at all? The staging of movement also did not help this awkwardness, as actors were often covering each other or running into unavoidable set pieces.
That said, praise should go to the actors, not only for managing to navigate the staging, but for putting an exceptional amount of work and emotion into this work as a whole. Molly Williams brought a significant amount of energy and pathos to Amanda Wingfield, a role which can easily be one note. The subtle exertion of power she portrayed was incredibly impressive to watch. Most notably, I cannot applaud Morgan Corby’s performance enough. Every element, from his charisma, to his gait, to his ability to switch from a scream to a whisper all felt unbearably honest – not to mention the finest Southern accent I’ve heard a Brit do on stage here. And I’m from the South. Set dressing elements such as the live score by Josh Wood and the impressive hand-sewn costumes by Noemie Jouas merit similar praise as well, shining as strong aesthetic elements in the overall blandness of the design.
The Glass Menagerie is a complex play to attempt today- its structure dictates stylized aesthetic, and modern dramatic taste yearns for something beyond basic melodrama. And while the direction of the performances and some aesthetic choices went some way to achieve this, they were not enough to keep the dismal set and staging from being any less disappointing in the one space in St Andrews which demands it most.