As I write this, the set for The Glass Menagerie is being built on the stage of the Courtyard Theatre at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. After four weeks of rehearsals and many months of planning, we’re now in the space itself and it, like Tom’s memories, is all starting to feel very real. In the past week, we’ve started to get a real sense of the overarching drive of the play and how Williams creates rhythms within his play; no matter how many times you read the play before rehearsals begin, it’s only when they’re being spoken by actors in a space that you really get a sense of how the thing ‘works’.
One of the major discoveries this week has been to do with the way the text sets up a status quo, begins to rupture it in the opening scenes, and then allows those gaps to become gaping chasms as the play progresses. As Tom says, he has “a poet’s weakness for symbols”, and as well as the eponymous menagerie, Williams incorporates any number of other symbolic gestures, both physical and structural.
An example: throughout the play, Tom is given five speeches as ‘narrator’, and they arrive at very particular points in the story. They have a number of dramaturgical purposes, serving to contextualise scenes, anchor the play in Tom’s memory and offer further information, but they also have a very useful purpose in terms of the structure and pace of play. They tend to arrive just before or just after key revelations, and so it is crucial their make sense tonally.
Of course, you only notice these things when the whole play can be viewed together. As soon as the reflections and repetitions have been noted however, it’s important to find out how they can best be performed to an audience, how they can resonate without being heavy-handed. Much of the past seven days, therefore, has been spent playing around with these moments: How should the news about Laura’s business course be set-up? Is it significant that we see the family having dinner three times throughout the course of the play? How do Amanda’s myriad memories talk to one another?
Of course, there’s no right or wrong answer to any of these questions, but the challenge lies in finding a structural logic in the rehearsal room which tells the story consistently and evokes a clear understanding of the world we’re representing. Naturally, this means the last week involves a lot of finessing and sifting, but that’s not to say we don’t need play or curiosity - indeed, it is these qualities which have harboured some of the most fascinating discoveries in the past week and which will, undoubtedly lead to further explorations throughout the tech week.