The Glass Menagerie, Young Vic, London

5.00

"The scene is memory and is therefore non-realistic. Memory takes a lot of poetic license," writes Tennessee Williams in his introductory stage direction to the 1944 play that propelled him into the major league of American dramatists. Joe Hill-Gibbins takes him at his word in this magnificent production, a revival that is as conceptually fresh as it is emotionally devastating.

The proceedings begin in startling fashion. Under harsh house lights, the Depression-era Wingfield tenement flat seems suspended in some weird rehearsal room of the mind. Its furnishings look like props. The overbearing mother and crippled, painfully shy daughter sit immobilised at the dinner table. Tom, the aspiring-poet son who flew this stifling nest, descends a lofty fire escape, lights a cigarette before a large "No Smoking" sign and gestures the play into being. A scarlet half-curtain rises and the scene floods with provisional life.

Throughout, there is a striking emphasis on Tom being the stage-manager of his memories. This is shown in his signalling for moody incidental music from the pianist and glass harmonica player on the balcony, or pointing out (in a wonderfully witty touch) the dressing-room door from which the long-awaited gentleman caller will emerge, or picturing his mother and sister wafting a white table cloth into the air as they clear up after dinner, a nostalgic image of a playful intimacy that never existed in reality. This tactic pulls us into the way that, for all his sardonic commentary, Tom cannot stop wrestling with the past he had hoped to evade.

Leo Bill captures the character's cabin fever and frantic frustration, but then all of the cast dig deep into the play's searching emotional truth. As Amanda, the domineering mother who has had to battle to bring up her children alone, Deborah Findlay conveys the suffocating oppressiveness of her ceaselessly prattling over-protection and her maddening mix of pragmatic suspicion and tyrannical fantasy. At first, I thought she was underplaying Amanda's delusions of old-world grandeur but she was clearly saving them for the perfectly deranged overdrive of Southern belle girlish flirtation to which she subjects Jim, the gentleman caller.

There is excruciating pathos as well as hilarious comedy here. Sinéad Matthews and Kyle Soller are beyond praise in the climactic, candle-lit scene in which the fragile romantic hopes of Laura are raised and then dashed by the gentleman caller's well-meaning but ill-considered attention. With her scratchy voice, painful stammer and jerky movements, Matthews shows the courage it takes for this abashed, tremulous creature to emerge from her shell and the aching generosity with which she accepts her fate. Soller indicates the degree to which Jim is damaged too, his nervy ebullience and almost huckster-like fervour about the power of self-belief stemming, it seems, from the disillusion of a high-school star who failed to live up to his promise.

To 1 January (020 7922 2922)

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test