A touching, moving Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie: Tennessee Williams, The New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich (until March 8)

Ivan Howlett

The Glass Menagerie: Tennessee Williams, The New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich (until March 8)

What a desperately melancholy and moving piece this first successful Tennessee Williams play was and still is. Pete Rowe's New Wolsey production captures well the trapped world which Williams's characters, his own family, inhabit. It's a fragile 1930s world in depressed, dreary St Louis where the Movies seem the only escape. As a climax to the play we have - delicately done here - one of the most touching scenes ever written for a twentieth century play. It's the candlelight conversation between daughter Laura and the only gentleman caller we know she'll ever have. You could have heard a pin drop.

Through the play we see Williams - the play is more than semi-auto biographical - weighing his responsibilities against his need to get out.

Dawn Allsopp's multi-level set gives us space and a touch of faded style, as well as the fire escape so essential to the play - not only for air and a smoke - but as the route away Williams will eventually take. It was the way out that his father, whose photograph in doughboy uniform dominates from the back of the set, had taken, too.

We watch to see the balance work out among the three main family characters

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There's the family matriarch Amanda (floridly and bitterly played - though not without comedy - by Kate Spiro). She, the deserted and faded Southern belle hating the St Louis tenement they live in, is caught between her illusions and often-repeated memories and the harsh, practical world with which she has to deal.

There's her unmarried, disabled daughter, Laura who's so withdrawn she's only comfortable with her old phonograph records and her collection of glass animals. Nicola Miles-Wildin gives a poignant perceptive, sheltering performance, sometimes fearful, and carefully protective of the character's painful shyness.

Then there's Tom - breadwinner, dissatisfied warehouseman and would-be writer - both narrator and a character in the play. Ilan Goodman plays him with a mixture of love, exasperation, petulance, disbelief and guilt.

The fall guy is the gentleman caller, Jim (an imposing Russell Simpson), enticed into coming round for dinner, to meet Laura. He's the self-engrossed outsider who, coming in to the family, shows us just how dysfunctional it really is. He'll break Laura's glass unicorn, and whatever brief dreams she has.

For me this is one of those must-see plays. It gets a good treatment here.

Ivan Howlett