Watson leaves an enduring memory

Mandy McIlhenny and Joel Jackson gave outstanding performances as the overbearing mother Amanda and her frustrated son Tom.

WHEN you’re still dissecting your own family at the end of a slow, rainy trip home to Freo, it’s a good indication that Black Swan’s latest production of Tennessee Williams’ classic The Glass Menagerie has hit the mark.

Director Clare Watson has taken Williams’ production notes to heart (“atmospheric touches and subtleties of direction play a particularly important part”) to create a fresh and thoroughly enjoyable interpretation that emphasises how filial duty and unrealistic ambition are still a hot topic 75 years later.

Projections

Most distinctly, Watson uses modern projections to give the screen conceived in Williams’ original script a new edge; he could only imagine magic-lantern slides given technology at the time while she has employed roses morphing from bud to bloom and other imagery to accent important themes and add some additional humour.

The huge diaphanous screen has a dreamlike quality, emphasising that The Glass Menagerie is essentially a play about memories, while Watson ingeniously uses it to create the illusion of separate rooms.

The cast did a superb job, led by Mandy McElhinney as the overbearing and ambitious matriarch Amanda.

As the audience warmed, so did she, building up to full diva for the big showdown between Amanda and her son Tom (Joel Jackson). McElhinney held a great line in creating a character that was over-the-top, but never straying into panto, which would be a great disservice to one of the world’s most-loved scripts.

Acacia Daken was also outstanding as the shy and awkward daughter Laura, and the empathy she elicited made us wonder later whether Williams’ treatment of disability is about the only area the play has fallen a little behind the times.

Despite being a central character, and the last of the memories recalled, her destiny comes across as a bit of an afterthought. 

No Hollywood

There’s definitely no Hollywood ending for anyone in Glass Menagerie, but I still felt her particular issues were left hanging.

Jackson seemed to take a minute or two to find his character, with the opening moment as narrator a little jerky and distracting, but after that he was pretty flawless. 

As the energetic but frustrated factory poet and henpecked son, Jackson set the pace for the rising tension, hitting the sweet spot just at the right time to launch McElhinney into full Amanda.

Shoutouts should also go out for lighting designer Lucy Birkinshaw for matching Watson’s creative design with very sensitive effects, and pianist Tom O’Halloran whose ever-present silhouette added a great nuance – particularly his liberal use of jangling chord-plucking.

The Glass Menagerie will be a wonderful memory for Watson to leave with Black Swan, having stepped down as artistic director late last year.

The Glass Menagerie Black Swan State Theatre Company of WA Running to August 21 His Majesty’s Theatre Tix: https://bsstc.com.au/

by STEVE GRANT

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