During my first year of university the student theatre company I did stuff with put on both A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie. Sometime during the latter, there was a conversation between me and 4 other women – I think – about whether you identify more with Glass‘ Laura or Streetcar‘s Blanche; my affinity is firmly in the hands of Laura, and that has meant The Glass Menagerie has become one of the few *texts* I really like. I have some doubts as to whether my affinity with Laura is born from much more than the fact I just once talked about it, but when I was watching John Tiffany’s production I found a great deal of myself in Laura.
I’ve never seen the same play more than once, I don’t think. Or, at least, I’ve never seen the same play, then seen a different production of it at a later date. Except The Glass Menagerie. The first was a student production in 2011, the second Headlong’s version directed by Ellen McDougall in November 2016, and then this – John Tiffany’s version at the Edinburgh International Festival.
The student version was good, if I remember. It set the foundation for me watching it the next time, more than anything. Here, I decided I liked this play, which paved the way for me to have far grander opinions about a play than I’ve had before.
When I watched the Headlong version, I was taken aback by how quickly having previous knowledge of a play made me an insufferable cunt. I was full of shit about character depth and vulnerability and what it was all *actually* about. I think I might be better at shows where I’m going in with minimal knowedge because I am not such a smug nob about the whole affair. Also, it’s not like I’d read the text. I’d seen a student show of it four years ago, ffs.
I did hate the Headlong one, though. I’m a bit concerned that having prior knowledge of a play – and therefore some idea of what will happen and the bits I think matter – actually turned me into a massive traditionalist. Suddenly I didn’t care for the artistic flourishes and unusual interpretations – I just wanted it to be a Laura that I felt connected to. While I do think there were issues with that show, including that a lot of choices (such as giant shoe to symbolise disability, putting crepe paper on lamps to demonstrate tidying up) were shallow and didn’t seem to be grounded in anything other than a desire to be quirky, I don’t think I ever engaged with it. I sat, distanced and judgmental, waiting to pounce on all the things they’d done wrong.
(in a lot of respects they actually did it right – it’s a “memory play”, everything’s hazy, and so there is license to fuck with it. But I was too busy being a stone cold arsehole to think about that at the time)
When watching John Tiffany’s The Glass Menagerie, I started with that same full-on-arseholery as before. I *knew* a thing or two about this play, don’t you know. But it went and sucked me right in. It didn’t find the things I knew and present them back to me, it found a whole new meaning, one I longed for and loved and so sat completely in awe of it all.
Firstly, what I really adored here was the way in which the relationships between Amanda, Tom and Laura was tender and loving as well as tense as fuck. Tom and his mother laugh and joke. Whereas I’ve normally seen Tom as a pure emo in a permanent state of angst, Tiffany’s Tom is frustrated by his circumstance and responsibility, and so he lashes out ocassionally – he is not just in a permanent state of hating his family. This adds so much charge to his real moments of rage – he is the boy who’s parents voted Tory and now he can’t buy a house, he is the boy who worked hard at school but £9k fees are a bit steep, he is the man who can’t afford care for his family and so his life is theirs to keep. In smaller doses, Tom’s anger seems to matter so much more.
Then, there’s Jim, Laura’s first “gentleman caller”. Jim has been turned not into a charming out-of-reach hunk, but the personification of the mainsplain. He meets Laura and within moments of meeting her tells her exactly who she is and what is wrong with her, all the while talking himself up and waiting to accidentally treat himself to a self-entitled kiss. Tiffany teases Jim into a fragile, arrogant bellend, the perfect encapsulation of modern masculinity. Laura, meanwhile, is shattered when the different pressures on her collide: look feminine, look strong, be successful, become a wife, do not celebrate the person you are. For a show that sticks to the period the text was written in, this feels like it is being viewed through a clear, modern lense. Memory, with modernity to colour it.
This Laura really was my Laura. This is not a Laura I can identify with because she is lonely and awkward, this is a Laura I can identify with because the men of the world keep explaining to her why she is wrong, why she shouldn’t be lonely and awkward and why she should be fixed. This is a Laura who gets told to fix herself by the same people who are breaking her. This Laura is the Laura of all the girls at Fringe shouting at the top of their lungs in their fighty feminist works. This is my Laura.