Review: Cherry Jones in Tennessee Williams's THE GLASS MENAGERIE at the Duke of York's

The classic Tennessee Williams play The Glass Menagerie is in my top three favourite plays of all time, so the news of this landmark revival - helmed by John Tiffany - would finally transfer across the pond to London this year, I was elated. While it is one of my favourite plays of all time, I have never been able to see a professionally staged production before, and this was a perfect first.

The Glass Menagerie is one the most popular plays in the Tennessee Williams catalogue alongside A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat On a Hot Tin Roof as well as being one of the most popular plays of all time, and there's a reason for that. The play coins the term "memory play" for the first time, the idea that the story is told in retrospect from the perspective of the focal character (in this instance, it's Tom played by Michael Esper) and because it's told entirely from memory, so some parts of the story might have been omitted or exaggerated. This idea isn't necessarily carried through in the dialogue from first inspection, but it's definitely clear in the staging of the piece, most notably being this revival's iconic single glass animal in Tom's sister Laura (Kate O'Flynn's) Glass Menagerie, a nickname given to her precious collection of glass animals by her mother Amanda (Tony Award-winner Cherry Jones). The play focuses on their family life as a trio, living with a Mama Rose-style mother who wants her disabled daughter Laura to find love, and who also wants her private son Tom to open up to her more. Eventually, Tom introduces Laura to a 'gentleman caller' and the promise of a bright future starts to emerge... or does it?

Tony Award-winner Cherry Jones and Michael Esper star as Amanda and son Tom in The Glass Menagerie

The story sounds basic and in actual fact, it is very basic, but it's the basic nature of the piece that makes it so fascinating. While the plot line in general is a simplistic one, it gives a lot of room for Williams to flesh out the characters into extremely 3D beings, while also trying to retain a certain element of fantasy about them because they're told from Tom's memory. This is abundantly clear in Cherry Jones's performance as Amanda, who is overly flamboyant and loud at most times. She reminds me of an early Mama Rose like I said before in a lot of ways and I couldn't help but wonder throughout the play how fantastic Imelda Staunton or Tyne Daly would be in the role.

Talking of Miss Jones, her performance is fantastic. I've seen several student productions of the play on YouTube and it's a very easy part to not find your feet in because her dialogue doesn't tend to say much about her on the surface. She's a character that, depending on the actress, can be played in a multitude of different ways with different tones and different styles. Cherry Jones makes Amanda warm and funny, a woman who could very easily be the sister of the Grandmother from Billy Elliot if you put them side by side; they're of a similar ilk. Michael Esper's Tom is a perfect balance between eerily secretive and sympathetic. The character doesn't really have anything to hide, but he still does for some reason and while it can be easy to turn against him for that kind of behaviour, Esper makes the character warm enough for him to be likeable, maybe even lovable.

Tony Award-winner Cherry Jones gives a class performance as Amanda in John Tiffany's The Glass Menagerie

Kate O'Flynn is my favourite part of the performance, though. Her character is extremely timid and shy and is completely insular as a result of her limp that she lives with, but while you can see how Tom and her mother can get annoyed at her at times, she definitely has a whole lot of heart and warmth to her. The majority of the second act focuses around Laura getting to know the Gentleman Caller as best she can and throughout that time, you really start to see her open up and show her true colours; it's beautiful. O'Flynn makes the character so wonderfully deep and nuanced in a performance that is sure to garner her awards season attention. Brian J. Smith also makes a great performance as the Gentleman Caller, which can be very subtle at times, but is in no way forgettable.

The creative team behind this piece are just as star-studded - maybe even more so - than the cast on stage. Olivier and Tony Award-winner John Tiffany's stunning production is beautifully realised in a visual masterpiece to remember. He really understands everything about this play in a way that not many directors understand the piece at their fingertips and it is magical when it all comes together. The movement parts of the piece are choreographed beautifully and intelligently by Olivier Award-winner Steven Hoggett; the set and costume design - possibly the best part of the whole piece - are exquisitely brought to life by Tony Award-winner Bob Crowley; lighting design by one of my favourite people in theatre, Tony Award-winner Natasha Katz; and entrancing sound design by Olivier and Tony Award-winner Paul Arditti. This show is brought to life by some of the most talented and celebrated people in the theatre in a production to match.

Kate O'Flynn gives an Olivier Award-worthy performance as Laura in John Tiffany's The Glass Menagerie

This new version of The Glass Menagerie is the definition of unmissable for anyone who is interested in Williams, the theatre, acting, stage design, directing, lighting design... you name it. Every single person attached to the production is a heavyweight in in the industry who is worthy of their star status and their talents elevate this already fantastic play into a stellar, landmark revival. I defy you to see this show and leave feeling dissatisfied; it's the best revival of a play I've seen in years.

The Glass Menagerie is now playing at the Duke of York's thru April 29th. Get tickets.

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