Theatre: Glass Menagerie at The Maj




The Glass Menagerie resonates as powerfully today as it did when playwright Tennessee Williams penned it 80-odd years ago.

Perhaps this is because the issues of family, status, broken dreams, human frailty, mental illness, and hope have always been a part of our lives.

The Clare Watson -directed Black Swan State Theatre Company adaption, currently on stage at His Majesty’s, is a worthy take on the mid-century American classic, and I dare say Tennessee would give it the nod.

Just about all of Williams’ works depict weakness and strength in the human condition, and often focus on the ways of flawed and pitiable people.

When it was first staged in 1945, the play was somewhat ground-breaking in that it touched on a number of taboo and suppressed subjects, and pretty much kicked off a new genre in American playwriting.

Many have emulated the style and technique since.



In the story, set in the 1930s, Amanda Wingfield (Mandy McElhinney) only wants the best for her two very different offspring, Tom and Laura.  She wistfully recalls her colourful but faded youthful years, and is clearly unhappy about her current life of struggle living in a small apartment in St. Louis.  For her, life has turned out a bit of a disappointment.

She dreads her own children heading down the same path and channels her time and energy into trying to push them up the social and financial ladder. There is no longer any father to speak of, and Tom and Laura struggle to break free from their overbearing and rather desperate mum.

Laura (Acacia Daken) has a slight limp caused by a childhood illness, is reclusive, mentally fragile and suffers from an inferiority complex. She seems to find her only joy in listening to records on the gramophone and playing with her collection for glass animal figurines – which her mother calls ‘the glass menagerie’.



The collection is clearly an analogy for the fragility of all things, but particularly Laura herself.

The whole family suffers the hopelessness that threatens their lives, yet all avoid facing reality: Amanda dreaming of her faded socialite glory days, Laura consumed by her figurines and Tom (Joel Jackson) constantly racing off to the movies.

Amanda insists that Tom help his sister live a more normal life and join society, and asks him to bring home “a gentleman caller” to meet Laura. Tom selects his friend Jim from the warehouse where they both work, and Amanda puts on a dinner, albeit beyond the family means.



Jim (Jake Fryer-Hornsby) turns out to be a breath of fresh air blowing through the dysfunctional Wingfield abode, but has his own status and accomplishment issues.

It turns out he had been at school with Laura, was popular with the girls, and showed great promise. But life has him still working a menial job alongside Tom. Both young men aspire to greater things but aren’t making much headway. Amanda, dressed in her best glad rags, can’t help but flirt with the younger Jim, even though he is there to meet Laura.



The night soon starts to unravel and go pear-shaped for the floundering Wingfield clan.

The second half of the play is a litany of nuanced issues between Jim and Laura, and as in life, not everything goes to plan. Laura reveals more of her deep vulnerabilities and Jim, trying to play the experienced and worldly man, is reduced by his bumbling to labelling himself a  ‘stumble-john’.

There is a lot of the playwright’s early life in this play, some of it heartbreaking. Laura is based on his beloved sister, Rose. Tennessee doted on her and they were very close. Rose was diagnosed with schizophrenia and received a lobotomy, a radical and commonly overused treatment for mental afflictions at the time.



The Glass Menagerie  certainly lends itself to being performed at various levels of seriousness and intensity. The Black Swan cast finds a nice balance of humour and pathos through solid acting and astute interpretation of the roles.

The stage design, props and digital projections are slick and impressive. I did, however, find the technique of lines from the play being periodically projected above the stage a tad superfluous. While this was clearly done to add impact and context, but the actors ably conveyed the same words through their dialogue.

Tom O’Halloran tinkling the ivories back-set adds a nice emotive and expressive musical accompaniment throughout the play.

If you want some thought-provoking and entertaining drama, then the BSSTC production of the The Glass Menagerie at His Majesty’s will not disappoint.




DIRECTOR: Clare Watson

CAST: Acacia Daken, Jake Fryer-Hornsby, Joel Jackson, Mandy McElhinney




The Glass Menagerie runs until Sunday 21 August at His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth.

Photographs: Daniel J. Grant. Hero image of Mandy McElhinney by Frances Andrijich.