The New Era Players have been a treasured asset to their local community of Wash Common (at the edge of Newbury) for forty years, producing a wide variety of amateur productions from classics to new writing. Their current production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, directed by Janet Bennett, is the perfect example of a much-loved classic play performed with tenderness and heart.
First opening its doors in 1978 the New Era Theatre boasts an uncommonly deep stage for such an intimate space which was well utilised in the creation of the interior of the Wingfield apartment. Nitpicking might result in questioning some of the costuming decisions and registering the variable success the cast had with the southern American accent. However, for me such details did not detract from the success of the production in drawing the audience in and creating a delightfully regretful nostalgia. The metallic fire-escape platform down stage right serves as the apartment’s exterior and the spotlight for Tom Wingfield (played by Ronan Hatfull) as he addresses the audience in his capacity as narrator, becoming the lens through which we see his family.
“A much-loved classic play performed with tenderness and heart”
The cast is strong. No doubt about it. The relationships established between them are intricate and completely believable. Lisa Mounteer-Watson plays Amanda (the overbearing and nostalgic mother) to perfection, relentlessly pursuing the dreams of her past believing them to be the key to her children’s happiness. Thanks to Hatfull’s warm and humorous interpretation of Tom, his interactions with his mother and sister clearly express an affection not always glimpsed in portrayals which focus on his frustration with his role in supporting them. This made his decision to follow the example of his father and abandon them, all the more poignant and repositioned the play as a torturous foray into his guilt-filled memories.
The sweet but timid Laura Wingfield (Emily Beck) is the source of both their anxiety. Beck brilliantly captures Laura’s progression from wide-eyed terror at the thought of meeting her high school idol and heart-throb Jim O’Connor (Patrick Lintin) to the thrill and enthusiasm of sharing with him her treasured world of glass animals. Lintin’s Jim counters her shyness with boundless self-confidence, leading her on until all hope of her escaping her reserve is dashed.
The dreamy quality of this ‘memory play’ is neatly captured in the tinkling chimes of the sound design and the sombre pensiveness of Tom’s narrative monologues but never so heartbreakingly as at the very end. Amanda and Laura draw the curtains over the upstage area leaving them veiled from the audience and from Tom. He lets go of his memory of them with the words ‘blow out your candles Laura’. And she does.
The Glass Menagerie is on at the New Era Theatre in Wash Common, Newbury until 24th March.
Image: David Hatfull