The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

Prior to the current production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, the only previous time I had seen Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie was in 1966, when I was twenty-one. Notwithstanding an outstanding cast which included Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Ian McShane and Anna Massey, I was alienated by it because I found its content, particularly the mother’s attempt to set up a romance for her crippled daughter, embarrassing and sentimental. Nearly fifty years later my reactions were completely different. I now realise that the embarrassment and pathos are necessary to depict a world of forlorn hope from which there is no escape.

I was slow to accept Ellen MacDougall’s production of the play at Leeds because, with its rudimentary sets and somewhat stylised movements, I thought that I missed the sweaty, intense atmosphere which a realistic depiction of a tenement in America’s Deep South would have provided. But by the end I was completely won over by it. As the narrator son and brother tells us, the essence of the play lies not in reality but in the evocation of memory and images which flow from that. Hence also I had no problem with a black actor being cast as the outsider and potential lover, Jim.  MacDougall had used the same device in her production at Manchester earlier this year of a dramatized Anna Karenina. Challenging the audience to question racial stereotyping sharpened the perspective which the outsider gave to the enclosed world of a family stuck in the past and its illusions.