In a town with a little less going on, the student theatre scene that we have in Oxford would probably be a lot more celebrated. In the next few weeks, as spring peters into Finals season, there’s as choice an offering of tickets in Oxford as any town could reasonably hope for, all put on and attended by absolute keen-beans, which in my opinion must be a vote of confidence. Chances are, if you’re in Oxford, you should be going to the theatre more. The play you loved studying at school, but never saw produced; the film you liked, but thought “I’d love to see the stage version”; or in this case – the play you haven’t seen yet, but really ought to have.
The Glass Menagerie was Tennessee Williams’ first hit. Without it, there would be no Streetcars, no Cats on metal roofs, lukewarm or otherwise – quite possibly no Marlon Brando. This is what kicked it off, a four-person memory play about living with longing, and CABAL Student Production do a pretty good job of telling the story.
The star is Williams’ dialogue, turning phrase after perfect phrase out in his melodic, Southern style that treads the fine line between flourishing sharpness and overindulgence perfectly. It has to be said that Katie McGunagle’s Amanda, a mother obsessed by her past glories and forlorn hopes for her children, nails this dialogue, somewhat loudly, but all the better to depict the controlling matriarch. This makes up for the fact that, as in most student productions, nubile twentysomethings portraying aged hags requires something of a suspension of disbelief.
Nevertheless her volume is a great foil to Claire Bowman’s understated Laura, her shy ‘crippled’ daughter in need of a husband (according to her mother), who is a study in body language and awkwardness, flourishing momentarily and fading perfectly with the rhythm of the play. Andy Laithwaite is a strong, somewhat jovial Tom, the semi-autobiographical narrator/son and brother, a poet working in a shoe warehouse, dreaming of adventure and a better tomorrow. He has the meat of the soliloquies and leads the audience ably through his family’s travails. Miles Lawrence arrives last as Jim, the ‘Gentleman Caller’, with something of the George McFly about him, braces akimbo.
There were a few opening night mishaps – a fairly crucial part of the set failing early in the 2nd half was awkward, and the rather complex lighting setup of the MBI Al-Jaber Auditorium presented a few issues. I should also advise all that there’s a pretty heavy-handed ID policy on the door – Bod cards essential etc.
In all, you should go and see this play. It’s a masterpiece performed well in a delightful setting, and there are plenty of professional productions around that don’t come close to that.