Theatr Pena: 'The Glass Menagerie'


Simon Gough
Last weekend I was lucky enough to catch a performance of The Glass Menagerie by Theatr Pena.

Set in 1930s St Louis, the play chronicles the story of a family living in the midst of an economic recession, struggling to cope with the harsh realities of their lives, losses and hopes for their respective futures.

The play opens with three of the characters already on the stage, followed by an explanation by the character of Tom, his preface spoken to the audience, “The play is memory. Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.”

Simon Gough
We are introduced to Amanda Wingfield, the matriarch of the family and a faded Southern belle with grandiose dreams for both of her children. Her son Tom, heads to the movies every night, escaping the confines of their sparse apartment and attempting to chase his dreams of becoming a poet. Her daughter Laura, the central character of the play, is chronically shy, battling the lasting effects of polio and unable to integrate with the outside world. Her focus is a collection of glass animals (the menagerie,) and an old gramophone left by her absent father.

Amanda, keen for her daughter to have a gentleman caller, persuades Tom to invite a friend for dinner. We subsequently learn that Jim O'Conner was Laura's first crush, the news that makes the painfully shy Laura ill. The climax of the play is Laura and Jim's 'reunion.' The scene between the two characters is tense and emotional to watch as we witness the empowerment that he brings to Laura as she relives why she has always liked him. The consequent 'operation' to the unicorn, and Laura's reaction make the scene even more poignant. A glimpse of what could have been, ended by the truth.

Simon Gough
Simon Gough
Theatr Pena's staging is polished and thought provoking, and the performances by Eiry Thomas, Rosamund Shelley, Gareth Pierce and Rhys Meredith are beautiful in their power and frailty. Director Erica Eirian and her talented team have done a fantastic job of presenting this popular text in a modern and moving way, its themes of love, loss and faded dreams powerfully resonating with the audience. I particularly liked the set design, lighting and costumes, the intimately lit set exposed against the harsh, neon light framing the absent photograph of a long-gone husband and father.

Theatr Pena's productions are powerfully minimalistic, reflecting their focus on the spoken word and the performance itself. As a company, they are committed to creating opportunities for women in theatre and to giving audiences in Wales the chance to experience contemporary productions of both classic and modern plays.

Simon Gough
This was my first experience of Theatr Pena, and their performance of The Glass Menagerie still haunts me several days on. Their interpretation of Tennessee Williams's text is powerfully poignant and provoking, and one which perfectly expresses why live theatre will always have a place in our cultural landscape.

Theatr Pena continues its tour of The Glass Menagerie across Wales this February and March. Check out Theatr Pena for more information. 

Photos: Simon Gough/Holly McCarthy
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