'Oh, be careful - if you breathe, it breaks!" Laura whispers as she places a tiny glass unicorn in the palm of Jim's hand. The miniature is clearly a poetic symbol because Jim is the prospective suitor of this strange and fragile young woman in The Glass Menagerie. Now a modern classic of 60 years standing, Tennessee Williams' domestic drama about romantic dreams and disappointments was, by comparison with the unicorn, built to last. Yet it is also an acutely sensitive piece, poignantly haunted by memories of the playwright's own mentally frail and reclusive sister, Rose.
Rising director Rupert Goold is guilty of some clumsiness in this West End production. Near the close, Amanda Hale's heartbroken Laura is required to sink to her knees and emit a long gurgling howl that is embarrassingly stagey. Earlier on, Jessica Lange as Laura's neurotic mother, Amanda Wingfield, seems merely dull when she is meant to be driving her son up the wall - the moody would-be poet, Ed Stoppard's Tom. Maybe designer Matthew Wright has taken the idea of the "faded" Southern belle too far. Lange looks almost unrecognisably dowdy, but the real problem is her nagging is not needling enough.
Still, she gets into her stride later, overdressed and inappropriately flirtatious when Jim comes for supper - her hands fluttering around his knees like butterflies. Hale's pale, gawky Laura has a lovely luminous gentleness and her candlelit tête-à-tête with Mark Umbers' Jim is unforgettably tender, humorous and tragic. They are the real stars of this production and he beautifully captures the ex-golden boy's complex mix of lingering arrogance and deep kindness, truly falling in love with Laura for one life-enhancing but also devastating moment.
Starring Richard Schiff (from The West Wing, inset) as a cranky librarian-turned-lecturer, Underneath the Lintel is a one-man show heading for oblivion in spite of its own closing message - that we all need to leave our mark. To his credit, Schiff is quietly engrossing as the lonely soul who, with suitcase full of odd clues, tells us how a travel guide was mysteriously returned 113 years late and then he found himself on a globetrotting trail, obsessively pursing (or turning into?) the elusive borrower whom he believes is the never-resting Wandering Jew of legend. Alas, the never-credible detective plot grows tiresome meandering and the philosophising is barely middlebrow.
Boeing Boeing is absolutely shameless pea-brained entertainment. What on earth, you may ask, is a stunning line-up of top-calibre actors - Roger Allam, Mark Rylance, Frances de la Tour - doing in this barely remembered 1960s sex farce about a lothario, Bernard, who thinks he can juggle three air hostesses whilst his pal Robert, a wide-eyed country bumpkin, stays in the spare bedroom?
Well, the answer is that director Matthew Warchus is souping up an often feeble script with a trendy set - another white room, as in Art - and a bunch of brilliantly funny performers. De la Tour is priceless as the sour, dour housekeeper. Allam degenerates delightfully from a suave cad into a frantic wreck, dashing between bedrooms with buckling knees, while Rylance is a joy as Robert, blinking like a bewildered dolt but with a sneaky habit of getting snogged. As the brassy US hostess, Tamzin Outhwaite fails to make her lines funny by merely shouting them, but Michelle Gomez (from Green Wing) is inspired casting, making the stereotypical German dominatrix surreally hilarious, darting around with her beehive hairdo like an insane crested lizard.
In As You Like It, Shakespeare's comical yet romantic heroine Rosalind swaps partners in a more subtle and profound way, adopting different identities herself and journeying emotionally and literally to the Forest of Arden as she seeks a steady partner for life.
Artistic director Samuel West's farewell production at the Crucible makes one wish he were staying longer. The ever wonderful Eve Best is joyously witty and effortlessly boyish as the cross-dressing Rosalind and Lisa Dillon is superb too as her bosom-friend Celia, playfully loving but also irritated and alienated when Rosalind jumps in to win Orlando's heart ahead of her. Some of the background grief and loss could be explored still further and West's cast are uneven, with Daniel Weyman making Jaques an enervating dry stick.
But the framing device is subtly magical, starting the play with "All the world's a stage" and making Arden a kind of snow-white rehearsal room, where people try on different hats that rise from the floor like flowers on stalks. Worth catching.
'The Glass Menagerie' (0870 890 1101) to 19 May; 'Underneath the Lintel' (0870 890 1103) to 14 April; 'Boeing Boeing' (0870 060 6637) booking to 28 April; 'As You Like It' (0114 249 6000) to 24 FebruaryReuse content