Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Glass Menagerie; Sex with Strangers

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Glass Menagerie; Sex with Strangers

Article excerpt

Tennessee Williams's breakthrough play is a portrait of his dysfunctional family. A young writer, Tom (Williams's real name), lives with his effusively domineering mother and his painfully coy sister, Laura. Mother, once a famous beauty, gets Tom to find an eligible chap for Laura. Tough call. Beautiful Laura has a deformed ankle and she's just flunked out of secretarial college after suffering the embarrassment of vomiting over her type-writer. She now pines away at home forming sterile friendships with a colony of animal statuettes lodged in a glass case.

This set-up has the delicious simplicity of a comedy sketch. The conflict between the unstoppable mother and the self-effacing daughter promises fun galore. And we can't wait for the suitor to show up because we feel certain he'll be an insensitive oaf who mocks Laura's shortcomings or a fast-talking cad who leaves her heart in ruins. But he's neither. The 'gentleman caller' is a true gentleman. He's handsome, bright, charming and modest and he not only finds Laura attractive but he also knows how to stimulate her confidence and to convert her from a gibbering sniffler into a functioning adult. But there's a big snag and its disclosure turns the play from a melodrama into a tragedy.

This smooth-running production, imported from America, is exquisite to look at. Michael Esper gives Tom a rasping anger that makes him sometimes hard to warm to. Brian J. Smith, the suitor, is good in a boxy kind of way but he lacks that final layer of philosophical romanticism that would make him irresistible and the play's conclusion all the more heartbreaking. This leaves Cherry Jones (a beautifully understated Amanda) to steal the laurels.

Another American import at Hampstead. Middle-aged novelist Olivia is holed up in a snowbound hotel when hunky Ethan (ten years her junior, and also a writer) marches in and tries to seduce her. She resists. Then he quotes her first novel, and she melts into his arms. Their affair revolves around their publishing difficulties. Olivia is still stung by the negative response to her first novel and she's reluctant to release a sequel. Ethan is more worldly. He's a star blogger who has turned his shag-tastic social life into a bestseller that is already being touted as a possible movie. He wants to help Olivia with a new digital gizmo that will promote her book online. They discuss blogging, agents, digital profiles, the choice between ebooks and print-on-demand. …

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