Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Jemima Levick - Revisiting The Glass Menagerie

The last time a production of Tennessee Williams' play, The Glass
Menagerie,appeared at Dundee Rep, the part of the story's
semi-autobiographical narrator and doomed runaway poet Tom was played
by a young actor called David Tennant. That was back in 1996, since
when things have panned out rather well for the Bathgate-born star of
stage, TV and film. Whether such a weighty shadow puts any pressure on
the cast of Jemima Levick's new Dundee production, however, remains to
be seen.

Whatever happens, as Levick resumes her role as the Rep's co-artistic
director following ten months on maternity leave,it is clear that
Williams' first successful play, which first appeared in 1944, remains
close to Levick's heart. She first directed  The Glass Menagerie back
in 2008, after all, in a production at the Royal Lyceum Theatre,
Edinburgh. Six years on, as she explains of her revisitation to the St
Louis tenement where the dysfunctional Wingfield clan of Tom, his
painfully shy sister Laura and their over-bearingly optimistic mother
Amanda retreat into their own worlds, there is unfinished business to
attend to.

“Ever since I did The Glass Menagerie at the Lyceum I've wanted to go
back to it again,” Levick says. “There's so much in the play that I
felt I never fully explored, and there was so much that I didn't have a
chance to address, that it seemed like a good chance to go back to it

“One of the reasons I wanted to come back to the play is to look at Tom
as its narrator. Given the play's auto-biographical nature, the figure
of Tom as a writer who is telling his story is really important. This
is a man who ran away from everything, but who has come back because it
still haunts him, and shows why he suffers so much.

“I'm also interested in the fact that it's not a naturalistic play,
which is something I don't think I fully embraced the last time I did
it. This time round I want to give it more space, and embrace its
dream-like quality, so that rather than it having a linear narrative,
it comes from somebody's mind. Tennessee Williams created an actors
version of the play after the first production, which had lots of
explanations in it, but that didn't appeal to me. I much preferred the
messy unstructuredness of the original script, but there are so many
ways of doing it. I was looking at  rehearsals, and I thought, you
know, if I was any good as a choreographer, you could turn it into a
really good dance piece. Maybe it'll become my thing to do The Glass
Menagerie every five years or so in a different way.”

While Robert Jack will play Tom in Levick's production, Tom's mother
Amanda – a classic Williams matriarch full of self-delusional sass –
will be played by one of the Rep's regular acting ensemble, Irene
Macdougall. The roles of Tom and Laura, meanwhile, will see the latest
incumbents of the the theatre's graduate actor scheme, Millie Turner
and Thomas Cotran, thrown in at the deep end to appear as Laura and Jim
the gentleman caller, respectively.

“It's a fantastic opportunity,” says Turner, who recently graduated
from the Royal Conservatoire Scotland's acting course, having already
appeared in the Dostoyevsky-based Notes from the Underground at the
Citizens Theatre and #sleeptightbobbycairns at the Tron. “Laura is such
a complex character. When the play was written you might just have
thought of her as shy, but now she seems to have more of a social
anxiety disorder, and has created a world that excites her.”

Cotran too is relishing the opportunity, especially as he graduated
from the RCS's musical theatre course.

“'I'm really getting to delve deep inside Jim's character,” he says.
“He has to bring a new energy and be this breath of fresh air and
positivity, which is in complete contrast to everyone else.”

As Levick recognises, “This is a really big challenge for Millie and
Tom, but it's one I know they're already rising to, which is why
they're here. One of the great things about having the acting ensemble
in Dundee is that there's a certain amount of pastoral care and support
for each other, and because Millie and Tom are with the ensemble for a
year, this is just the beginning of their journey, and we can build on
whatever happens now.”

At the end of October, Dundee Rep will continue their Tennessee
Williams theme with Talk To Me Like The Rain and Let Me Listen, a
compendium of four short Williams plays which will tour community
centres in Dundee. Directed by Macdougall and featuring Turner and
Cotran in the cast., this quartet of impeccably realised and rarely
seen miniatures features This Property Is Condemned, Mr Paradise,
Auto-da-Fe and the beautiful title play, a production of which was seen
alongside This Property Is Condemned in a similarly minded triple bill
at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow as part of Glasgay! 2008.

Next up for Levick in Dundee will be the Rep's Christmas show, a new
take on Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach. This should provide
some welcome light relief after The Glass Menagerie, especially as once
her production is up and running she will be visiting Oslo to take part
in a festival of work by Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen.

“From one jolly play to another,” she jokes, before pointing out what
continues to fascinate her about The Glass Menagerie.

“I think it's the people,” she says, “the characters and their
relationships, which are so truthful and compelling. If you break it
down, it's a very simple look at the relationships between a mother and
son, a brother and sister, a mother and daughter and the people around
them. That's beautifully realised, because these people are so hopeful,
but are so disappointed as well, and I think there are parallels there
with all our lives.”

The Glass Menagerie, Dundee Rep, September 3-20. Talk To Me Like The
Rain and Let Me Listen, October 20-November 1.


Tennessee Williams – The Scottish connection

Cat on A Hot Tin Roof – In 1988, the National Theatre of the UK toured
a production of Williams' simmering tale to Glasgow featuring Lindsay
Duncan as Maggie and the Edinburgh born actor Ian Charleson as Brick.

In 1996, a young David Tennant played Tom in Dundee Rep's production of
The Glass Menagerie. It was an early sighting of Tennant's stage-craft
long before he became a star of the small screen.

In 2008, the Glasgay! festival gave its entire drama programme over to
a celebration of Williams. While this featured well-known works such as
Suddenly Last Summer, it also opened the door on rarely performed and
neglected pieces, including And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens
and a triple bill of short works under the umbrella tittle, Like The
Rain. Citizens Theatre legend Laurance Rudic also appeared in a
production of The Parade.

In 2010, Imogen Stubbs played Amanda Wingfield in a co-production of
The Glass Menagerie by Shared Experience and Salisbury Playhouse which
toured to the Citizens Theatre, home of many great interpretations of
Williams, including a 1974 production of Camino Real.

In 2012, Scottish Ballet produced a dance version of Streetcar Named
Desire to commemorate the play's sixty-fifth anniversary created by
theatre director Nancy Meckler and choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa,
which toured to great acclaim.

The Herald, September 2nd 2014


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