Theatre: People in glass houses

The Glass Menagerie Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
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Indy Lifestyle Online
There's nothing covert about the autobiographical elements in Tennessee Williams's haunting chamber piece, and guest director Polly Teale - visiting from Shared Experience - plays them fruitfully to the fore in this richly satisfying, densely nuanced new production.

The lights come up on the narrator, Tom - Williams's own given name - at his typewriter, tapping out the play from his own guilt-fraught memories before he begins to speak its lines, the action throughout being clearly and visibly (thanks to Ace McCarron's clear but unobtrusive lighting work) framed by its author's mind's eye.

The delicately stylised mannerisms adopted by both Lois Baxter as Amanda, Tom's mother, and Monica Dolan as his pathologically timid sister Laura, lend each a faintly formal, emblematic air, adding to the sense of double consciousness, even amid the flesh-and-blood anguish underlying their destructive inter-relationships.

Perhaps the finest in a uniformly compelling clutch of performances comes from Baxter, who fully inhabits and expresses all the grotesque, tragic complexity of her faded, frightened ex-Southern belle, feeding on those famous fantasised memories of "gentlemen callers" queuing up in Blue Mountain. "A little woman of great but confused vitality" is Williams's own description, and Baxter has her to the life, often simultaneously making you want to strangle her and to weep in pity. She gives Amanda an almost heroic dignity, while also revealing a dark vein of comedy in her wilder extremes, an element in the text often neglected in favour of the prevailing gloom. Teale, however, brings it out with dexterity, having us laugh, too - though not in the least comfortably - at Laura's odder tics and idiosyncrasies, letting a chink of the outside world's harsh glare into the family's self- sealed universe.

Williams's emissary from that outside world - the Thirties world of a faltering but still potent American Dream - Laura's own long-awaited gentleman caller, Jim, is played with beautifully judged rude health by Matthew Pidgeon, striking the right balance between regular-guy crassness and genuine good nature. Dolan plays Laura herself as a quiveringly fragile figure - her evident consciousness of her own incapacities, and valiant efforts to overcome or conceal them, are what render the depiction so poignant. Sometimes she's just endearingly gauche; next moment, it's clear something far deeper and more disturbing is at work.

The power of Baxter's portrayal, meanwhile, channels directly into her dealings with both Tom and Laura, the heart-breaking, helplessly corrosive minutiae of the dynamics between them picked out with mutual subtlety and a rigorous absence of excess histrionics. Except, perhaps - if we're judging the show by its own scrupulous standards - for Alec Newman's Tom, who betrays an occasional touch of grandstanding. But maybe that's entirely in character - such are the questions the production leaves you chewing over days after seeing it.

To 7 Feb. Booking: 0131-229 9697.