27 November 2021
THE GLASS MENAGERIE (Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe) Review

This “La Ménagerie de Verre” production of the Tennessee William’s classic was meant to be brought to The Barbican last June by Paris’ Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe, but the show was cancelled due to Covid.  Having had a ticket to see Isabelle Huppert on stage, I was absolutely gutted.  Luckily, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam recently announced that they would livestream the show, so I was very excited not to have missed out completely.

Same as all plays directed by Ivo van Hove, this one is accessible, streamlined, and stripped down to its bare essentials, which, in turn, lets us focus on the acting.  The more of his plays I see, the more I like this style.

Isabelle Huppert is phenomenal as Amanda (the matriarch).  She is fragile, despondent, melancholic, but is also charming, forceful, relentless, all at once.  Huppert is unbelievably talented, and it shows.  There were two small bits (one reminiscing on the table and one screaming on the stairs) when I thought the drama was a bit much, but I reckon that’s down to directing.  She imbues Amanda with unbelievable sadness that breaks through even when she chatters away happily.  She downright steals the show.

Nahuel Pérez Biscayart as Tom (the son and narrator) is unremarkable.  I just couldn’t feel his inner struggle in this portrayal.

Justine Bachelet as Laura (the daughter) I couldn’t get on board with at all…  For me, this interpretation didn’t work in the slightest.  Laura is meant to be sensitive and fragile and shy, but here it’s like she is not all there mentally.  Instead of being a delicate flower, she is neurotic (which is meant to be more of Amanda’s bag).  Laura is also meant to have been crippled by pleurosis that left her with a limp.  Bachelet was climbing up on the table and legging it across the stage the entire show, and I didn’t see a single limp, which makes the whole plot point of Laura’s low self-esteem coming, in part, from kids mocking her in school be lost.  Finally, I didn’t get Laura’s walk at all.  Having recently watched “The Strain”, she reminded me of the creepy spider-like children in the second season, and it made absolutely no sense.

Cyril Guei as Jim (Tom’s friend) put in a strong performance, I liked the balance he brought to the role:  light and gregarious with Amanda, but soft and somber with Laura.  Whilst I am all in favour of colourblind casting, having a dark-skinner actor on a dimly lit stage makes us, as the audience, miss out on the subtlety of facial expressions.  I thought Laura was wonderfully lit when the two of them are reminiscing together, so reckon the lighting should’ve been adjusted accordingly for Guei, and it’s a shame it wasn’t.

My only real gripe with this production is the set.  The Wingfields are meant to be living in a house that has seen better days, but is still “comfortable”.  Here, they appear to be squatting in an empty loft that has its walls decorated with streaks of blood and excrement (thanks to the colour palette).  Even with a minimalist no-furniture set, not sure there was need to go post-apocalyptic…

It would’ve been nice if Huppert had more on-stage time, but the play/role is what it is.  My being picky notwithstanding, it’s a good play, and Huppert’s performance is an absolute treat.

Cheapskate enjoyment value: £5 (all for Huppert).

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