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South East
posted/updated: 17 Jul 2015 -
The Glass Menagerie
Tennessee Williams
society/company: Lindley Players Limited, The (directory)
performance date: 16 Jul 2015
venue: The Playhouse Theatre, Whitstable CT5 1AZ
reviewer/s: Susan Elkin (Sardines review)

Tennessee Williams’s first great success (Broadway 1945) still resonates powerfully seventy years later in the accomplished hands of the Lindley Players directed by Roy Drinkwater. With some cuts it becomes a tight two-hour, four-hander whose thrust is Wingfield family dynamics all set, of course, in one claustrophobic living room.

Dan Coles is variously sulky, troubled, sardonic, angry, frustrated, kind and worried as Tom Wingfield, It’s quite a range and his control and timing is finely tuned especially as he loses his temper violently and then, with effort, regains it. Most of the time his acting doesn’t show which is always a good sign. Laura Kimpton does well too as Tom’s troubled anxious sister limping round the stage in an agony of awkwardness and Dave Rogers, as Jim the man who visits as a presumed suitor but turns out to be unavailable, is another sensitive and thoughtful actor. The candlelit scene in which he and Kimpton briefly find intimacy is pretty moving.

In many ways, though, the evening belongs to Lucie Nash as Amanda Wingfield the domineering mother. She was, apparently, a late stand-in for this role but you’d never know that. Nash finds all the garrulous, manipulative forcefulness needed for this large role and tempers it with exactly the right level of wistful vulnerability especially in her excruciating flirting with Jim. Amanda tries to organise her children’s future in the only way she knows but she’s doomed to failure and we sense her terror and denial in Nash’s fine performance. And all four actors, incidentally, have mastered those Southern US accents – never an easy thing – without sacrificing audibility and clarity.

Williams intended this play to use theatrical realism sparingly and this production depends partly on mime which works well enough while also feeling slightly out of tune with the rest of it. Tom’s commentary from a stage left suggestion of a balcony fails, though, to communicate that he’s looking back on events which happened years earlier. Moreover this version sidelines the symbolism of Laura’s collection of glass animals – the titular “menagerie”. Yes, they are positioned centre stage under a fixed spotlight throughout but text cuts mean that it’s a long time before anyone who doesn’t know the play learns what they are and why they’re significant. Darren Simpson’s multi-layered set, though, with its upstage angular open trellis revealing the blurred fire escape out of the flat is both thoughtful and practical. It almost functions, as the best sets always do, as another character.

The Whitstable Playhouse is run by the Lindley Players. I haven’t, to my shame – despite living only half an hour away – been there in over thirty years and then it was to see shows by a visiting company with which a friend was involved. The Glass Menagerie was then, my first sighting of the vibrant Lindley Players in action. It won’t be the last. They have a varied and interesting programme coming up and their venue is delightful – more comfortable front-of-house for punters than many a west end theatre, in fact, and the auditorium is attractive with good sight lines and a very satisfactory acoustic.

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