Review By Louisa Polson
SUDS (Sydney University Dramatic Society) are currently presenting their re-imagining of the Tennessee Williams’ play, The Glass Menagerie, at the Cellar Theatre within Sydney University’s main campus. This re-working of the classic play presents the plight of an immigrant family trying to co-exist with each other as they settle firmly into Australian life in the midst of the 20th-century.
Playing in a small black box theatre tucked away within USYD’s campus, SUDS have created a very solid rendition of the famous playwright’s work. For an incredibly modest price of less than $15 a ticket (an absolute steal in this cost-of-living crisis), audiences are able to witness the culminate work of various skilled players, putting on a very charming piece of theatre.
When you first enter the space, it is hard to miss the stage being outlined by a row of black stools. Upon first glance it seemed to be a very frank way to boarder off the space. However, when the play began it became clear that this was a clever way to elevate the narrator away from the scenery of the characters world and into a “no man’s land.” It was an interesting delineation that allowed the audience to discern when Nelson Lee was playing his character Tom Wingfield or the narrator.
As a dialogue heavy production, the play relies heavily on the actors without the use of any change in scenery. The incorporation of projectors on the side of the stage allowed the audience to switch their focus throughout and gain a bit of a giggle at the related content. The actor’s strong understanding of their characters made it effortless for the audiences to observe. Once everyone had settled into the story, the energy given from each actor was commendable. Josephine Lee, who plays the mother, Amanda, was a tremendous talent, consistently raising the bar throughout the entire production, coming back in the second act with even more sprightliness than act one. A bit of a scene stealer, her comedic charm brought a variety of shade and depth to her character.
Jim O’Connor, played by Michael Sebastian appeared in the second half of the show and was a breath of fresh air to re-invigorate the plot. His character, Jim provoked change within the other characters, most noticeably for the Wingfield’s daughter Laura. His introduction into the story changed the pace of the work, reigniting the audience’s attention for act two, making up for the fact his character’s absence in act one.
The bond between Jim and Laura, played by Airlie Benson was captivating. While their encounter with one another was brief, they demonstrated the ability to produce a very dynamic interaction full of believability and nuisance. Very beautiful acting indeed. The play originally written in 1944 does require updating and re-imagining for modern audiences to relate to. Even with SUDS adaptation, some of the play’s dialogue presented moments that felt a bit dubious. This was particularly evident in the scenes between the characters Laura Wingfield and Jim O’Connor, where the dialogue sometimes hit a condescending tone which led the audience to audibly react to a couple lines.
Finally, the narrator of the play, Tom Wingfield, written by Tennessee Williams as a reflect of his past self, was played by Nelson Lee. As narrator, Tom is quite a big role to take on as this character leads the story. Nelson rose to the challenge and took the audience along for the ride. It was clear Nelson understood his character and was able to shift seamlessly between character and narrator swiftly and without a shadow of doubt.
The Glass Menagerie is a pleasurable watch, packed with skilled and committed actors and theatre makers behind the scenes. SUDS has done a fantastic job of creating a space for creatives to practice and showcase their skills. I hope in the future they can expand their reach, with a campus so large there is sure to be enough interested students to fill out the theatre each night.