“Ik vind het beangstigend hoe ze zomaar wat leeft”
Marking Sam Gold’s directorial debut outside of his native US, Glazen Speelgoed sees him do wonderful things to Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie with Toneelgroep Amsterdam, the Dutch company proving a perfect match for this striking reinterpretation. Released from the tyranny of the Southern accent (at least, I don’t think their Flemish was accented…) and though placed into a loosely contemporary setting, the production achieves a similar kind of timelessness to van Hove’s A View From The Bridge, the original recast and refreshed, new angles and facets accentuated in the glass.
Above all, the Wingfields have never felt so real, the family dynamic centred on Laura’s disability and her need for frequent physiotherapy. The ritual of massages and stretches reinforces the bond between mother-daughter-son, the intense feeling between them, but also the drudgery of their lives and the straitened circumstances in which they get by. Amanda’s need for gentlemen callers to propose to her daughter thus becomes a desperate strategy for financial security, the oppressive weight on Tom’s shoulders as the sole wage-earner in the household that much more powerfully felt.
Andrew Lieberman’s stripped-back design (right down to the bare bricks of this beautiful theatre) plays up both the realism and the privation. Props are condensed to a few key possessions and with Adam Silverman’s clever use of lighting, the precariousness of their position is perfectly exemplified by the blackout being complete. Silverman and Gold’s masterstroke is then to play the ensuing scene by candlelight, heightening the intimacy between Jim and Laura almost unbearably, the eventual neon glow from the Paradise Dance Hall sign channeling a real sexual charge into the shadows.
Gold’s direction is full of other beautiful details, playful and poignant – the anarchic fizz of a can of pop opening announcing Jim’s introduction, Amanda’s worn green dressing gown clutched as if a safety blanket. The superb Chris Nietvelt invests her with such hushed humanity beneath the fussiness, her wistful reminiscences about her time in Blue Mountain heave out of her with a beautiful sigh; Eelco Smits’ emotionally bruised Tom is perfectly judged; and Harm Duco Schut plays up the devilishly dangerous charm of Jim, leaving Hélène Devos’ achingly absent Laura no choice but to be swept off her feet. Breathtakingly bold and intensely moving, let’s hope Gold’s next international foray takes him to the UK.
On a sidenote, this has been the third version of The Glass Menagerie that I’ve seen in the last few weeks and it has been fascinating to see the different emphases that Ellen McDougall for Headlong, Samuel Hodges for the Nuffield and now Gold for Toneelgroep Amsterdam have placed on different aspects of the play, and what they omitted too. Gold was the only one to include Amanda’s soul-sapping employment (and the dodgier bits of racist language), Hodges accentuated the absence of Mr Wingfield and McDougall played up the Southern Gothic element – it’s a real testament to the enduring quality of the writing that it stands up to three such varying and vibrant interpretations.