Review: Theatr Pena – The Glass Menagerie, Newport Riverfront

Tennessee Williams classic four-character memory play The Glass Menagerie is the latest drama to be given the Theatr Pena treatment.  A triumph in characterisation, light, pace and delivery, it began its tour across Wales for a three night stint at Newport Riverfront on Thursday evening, drawing  the audience in from the offset and raising the seemingly unsurpassable bar even further from last years production of The Royal Bed.

Director Erica Eirian and her team of actors and technicians, have a knack of picking strong character plays. The Riverfront studio has played host to these in recent years building a sense of intimacy for the audience. However, judging by the audience reaction on Friday evening, none of the dynamics were lost as The Glass Menagerie moved to The Riverfront’s larger main theatre. If anything, the extra space added more depth to the ongoing proceedings as we were transported to St Louis in 1937. An atmospherically lit set reflected the lives of a family caught up in the economic recession, struggling to cope with the harsh realities of their impoverished lives, giving a sense of a classic Hollywood movie brought to life on stage.

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Rosamund Shelley is the doting mother of Tom and Laura who unsuccessfully tries to control her children’s destinies to compensate making a mess of her own. Shelley gives a splendid tragicomic characterisation which generates as much laughter in her characters circumstances as it does in gasps of disapproval of her behaviour.

Rhys Meredith is a dynamic presence as her son, Tom, who longs for the adventurous life that reflects the ones he witnesses each night on the cinema screen. Tom partly realises this dream by narrating the ongoing storyline in the style of a B Movie Detective, this is the hook that draws the audience into the story.

Eiry Thomas plays Tom’s sister, the beautiful but shy Laura, an almost social recluse but the custodian of a Glass Menagerie of ornamental animals and her departed fathers gramophone records. Thomas explores a multitude of emotions from fragility to renewed strength as the plot unfolds, particularly finding  empowerment as she is reunited with former school crush Jim O Connor played by Gareth Pierce. The pairs beautifully choreographed dance sequence is a unique piece of theatrical chemistry and beautiful to witness.

The Glass Menagerie will be touring Wales in the coming weeks; visit for venue details and be sure to catch this treat of a production.

  • Andy Howells is a freelance entertainment writer and arts reviewer.

  • Photos by Simon Gough

  • Review Archived: June 2020

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