On Friday night, I attended the opening night of Tennessee William’s - The Glass Menagerie directed by Ian Harman at The Globe Theatre in Palmerston North.
With a group of friends we eagerly huddled in the foyer of The Globe having no idea what we were about to experience. We’re not your regular theatre attending crowd, so this is where I declare my conflict of interest. Actually in Palmy it’d be hard not to have a conflict of interest of some sort, that’s just the type of place Palmy is. So me and my little ‘untheatrical’ huddle were here to see our friend Trudy Pearson play Amanda – the overbearing mother- in this rendition of Tennessee Williams timeless memory play. We had no idea what to expect, none of us had ever seen Trudy acting because for twenty odd years she had left behind ‘treading the boards’ to run on life’s treadmill – just like most of us.
So there we were, in the hum of the foyer under the watchful eye of producer Damien Thorne who was standing guard at the door of the theatre. Again, I kind of know Damien, he’d recognise my face but not know my name. Aside from his very many thespian talents, his Thorne Coffee shop in George Street is where you can expect to get great coffee and some type of sarcastic, acerbic or controversial commentary always delivered with style. When Damien decided the time was right we were all ushered in to the theatre under instructions it was a ‘full house so don’t leave any gaps’- yes Damien.
Straight away the set was mesmerising. We had walked back in time into someone’s dining room. It was an intimate setting, restrained, dainty and yet structurally robust. Every little detail had been considered, it was as if Director Ian Harman (again a conflict of interest he is a friend of a friend who carries an air of mystery and magic and again would maybe recognise me but not know my name) had travelled back in time and brought back with him a little piece of history. In the warm glow we sat enchanted by the scene and discussed amongst ourselves whether we would be able to forget that we were watching our friend Trudy and just see the character. Quite quickly the theatre filled up and the lights dimmed to signal to us to be quiet and pay attention.
On came Sam Gordon, who explained in a beautiful southern accent that he was the narrator, and the character that plays Amanda’s son Tom. This introduction firmly located us in the era of the 30’s and placed is in St Louis, and was carried out with class by Sam.
I am a little bit lost for words in regards to how to describe what followed. In the past I’ve attended live theatre and had that sort of weird squirming feeling inside when things are over or under acted, or not quite in the right place. I expected to feel like that again, I thought it was just something about the theatre genre, but what I felt at The Glass Menagerie was a genuine thrill. I felt I had just witnessed a pure art form that had to be experienced to be understood. A little bit like trying to describe being close to a bolt of lightning (something I’ve also experienced) there seems to be feelings to describe that no words have been created for.
Trudy Pearson, was not the Trudy I know. Trudy was Amanda, and not just acting Amanda – she was truly Amanda. Her accent and demeanour so securely embraced the era and the southern accent that we became voyeurs in the privacy of her humble home. Every movement and expression was so realistic and genuine that it was as if Amanda truly existed right there before us.
The interaction between Sam and Amanda was tumultuous and given a raw and realistic treatment such that I wondered how the two of them could talk to each other that way when they were ‘only acting’. Sam’s transition from actor to narrator was seamless and did not interfere with the flow of the play, how he pulled that off I do not know.
Poor, painfully shy Laura was portrayed well by Brie Shaw and at times I felt like yelling out ‘just leave her alone’ as she was constantly bullied and berated by her overbearing mother Amanda. I don’t know what Brie is like in real life but if she’s not a terrified little wisp of a girl with hand wringing shyness then she has done a very good job of pretending to be.
Michael Salmon playing the ‘gentleman caller’- Jim- was at once adored and despised. Bringing to the scene a knight in shining armour role, I for one being totally ignorant of the story, was devastated when this charming man turned out to be a stunning disappointment to Amanda’s plans to marry off Laura and brought the play to its climatic end.
Though usually in a theatre I am sighing and wriggling in my seat wondering how much longer I have yet to endure, this time I was devastated that the show was over. I felt I’d been hypnotised and transported to utopia and someone had clapped their hands to end my experience. As I applauded and cheered with my friends and a full house audience I stifled a sob in my throat to see my friend Trudy’s happy face receive such riotous applause. God, I would have told her it was good even if it had been less than that, but now I was left with too much to say and not enough words.
Coming out into the foyer again there was such an electric feeling amongst an incredibly grateful crowd. There were hugs, high fives and flowers, a veritable hub bub of incredulous murmuring and Damien sarcastically remarking – ‘and thanks to the producer of course’.
So yes, thanks to the Producer and MTS for bringing this incredible show to town, thanks to the Director for whatever the hell you did to create this stunning masterpiece, and thanks to the cast that inhabited well worn characters and brought them to life in the most genuine and enchanting way.
Of course I have no credibility being a non-theatre person, but from an audience perspective I still don’t know how to do justice to describing what I saw. Clearly this show has become greater than the sum of its parts; together they’ve brought magic to The Globe.