THEATRE REVIEW: ‘The Glass Menagerie’ at the Young Vic

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON — In a dream, there is always music, says Leo Bill as Tom, the nostalgic wanderer who narrates Tennessee Williams’ autobiographical play “The Glass Menagerie” and the Young Vic’s refreshing revival honors the playwright’s vision with an evocative score by Oscar-winning composer Dario Marianelli.

Tom even cues pianist Eliza McCarthy and Simon Allen, who echoes the drama’s theme by drawing tones from a table of wine glasses, as he relates his memory of his overbearing Southern mother, Amanda (Deborah Findlay) and tragically vulnerable sister, Laura (Sinéad Matthews, pictured).

Tom even cues pianist Eliza McCarthy and Simon Allen, who echoes the drama’s theme by drawing tones from a table of wine glasses, as he relates his memory of his overbearing Southern mother, Amanda (Deborah Findlay) and tragically vulnerable sister, Laura (Sinéad Matthews)

Marianelli, who won the Academy Award for his score for “Atonement”, contributes indelibly to a production staged on a square set with two sides jutting into the audience and a balcony above designed to resemble the fire escape of a St. Louis tenement.

Findlay, who plays Mrs. Tomkinson in the BBC series “Cranford”, adds the only Southern flourish with a credible Delta accent as Amanda reminisces about fancy balls and the gentleman callers who wooed her. A large photograph of her departed husband dominates one of the back walls but it prompts long elegies of longing as well as bitterness over the way he abandoned her and his children. “He was a telephone man who fell in love with long distance,” she explains.

Constantly browbeating Tom, who has dreams of leaving and becoming a writer, she smothers Laura, who has a bad leg and lives in a dream world she shares with her record player and a collection of tiny animals rendered in glass.

Williams paints a melancholy picture of dashed hopes as Tom’s vivacious friend Jim (Kyle Soller) comes for dinner and Amanda puts every effort into making sure Laura’s first gentleman caller comes to stay.

The playwright’s poetry is given full rein by director Joe Hill-Gibbins and the essential scene in which Jim appears to court Laura only to reveal that he is already committed reverberates with joy and immense sadness. Soller and Matthews dance figuratively and literally as the truth emerges with Jim made to appear caringly foolish and Laura ineffably lost.

Bill, who played Norman Lloyd in “Me and Orson Welles”, and Matthews, who was Miss Topsey in “Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang”, bring a freshness and vigor to the siblings who each reflect the playwright’s formative years.

Venue: The Young Vic, runs through Jan. 1; Cast: Leo Bill, Deborah Findlay, Sinéad Matthews, Kyle Soller; Musicians: Simon Allen, Eliza McCarthy; Playwright: Tennessee Williams; Director: Joe Hill-Gibbins; Set designer: Jeremy Herbert; Costume designer: Laura Hopkins; Music: Dario Marianellli; Lighting designer: James Farncombe; Sound designer: Mike Walker.

This review appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.

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