A chat with Geraldine Somerville

8 May 2024
Image courtesy of Empica Ltd

The Glass Menagerie is reaching 80 years of age. It catapulted Tennessee Williams from obscurity into fame. His vision was to re-write the rulebook of theatre and create a more expressionistic version of what theatre could be.

This latest production, directed by Atri Banerjee, reaches BOV this month and embraces the lack of convention Tennessee Williams was drawn to.

We caught up with lead actress Geraldine Somerville, who plays Amanda Wingfield, to find out how the company is living up to Tennessee Williams’ original intentions and why the play still endures today.

photo by Marc Brenner

  • What is The Glass Menagerie about?

    The Glass Menagerie is a memory play. It’s about a family living together under a lot of stress, trying their best to have the freedom to be who they are and to live their lives. I play the mother, Amanda, who lives with her daughter Laura and her son Tom. The play is narrated by Tom as he recollects his mother and sister – it has a dreamlike quality to it, as we’re never really sure if the memories can be completely believed.
  • Are you enjoying working with the rest of the company?

    Very much! The cast is young and enthusiastic, and they are really embracing the play. I think it’s a piece that everyone can relate to – there are so many universal truths about family dynamics, abandonment, despair, hopes dashed… so many things we can all relate to.

photo by Marc Brenner

  • Your relationship to The Glass Menagerie is quite a long one – when did you first encounter the play?

    I first did it in 1989. It was my first job out of drama school; I played Laura and I loved it. It was a very different production to ours – quite traditional with lots of props and a detailed set. I found Tennessee Williams’ writing so beautiful and poetic; it still exists in me from all those years ago – it left a very deep impression on me.

  • How has your view of the play changed over time?

    The first time I was in The Glass Menagerie, I wasn’t a mother, and I am now – I can tell you that everyone has a bit of Amanda in them as a mother! I really relate to Amanda now; when I first did the play, I saw her as overbearing – now I see her with much more sympathy. I understand what it means to want the best for your children, and how tempting it is to try to control their lives even if it’s not your business to.

photo by Marc Brenner

  • Lots of people will have seen this play many times – what’s special about this production?

    I hope we’re being true to what Tennessee Williams was trying to do back in 1944 – to move theatre from conventional into rule-breaking territory.  As it’s a memory play, I’d like to think with this very paired-back, dreamlike version, we are really doing service to the original concept he had around the play and not fixing it too much in one place. It feels fresh, modern and relevant.

    We also took the decision to have very few props and it’s a very minimalist set design. Because of that, it could exist in any space and time – a bit like memory itself. This creates a real dreamlike quality, and I hope the way we approach it connects with audiences.
photo by Marc Brenner

  • What do you want the audience to think or feel?

    That these characters are people we can all recognize. I hope they’ll be entertained, feel they’ve seen some form of human being’s truth being reflected to them on stage, and that they may learn something about their own relationships too.
photo by Marc Brenner