"THINGS have a way of turning out so badly," runs the caption along the top of Alex Lowde's set. It's the most telling of a series of quotations from the Tennessee Williams classic that flash up throughout Jemima Levick's production. It is the director's way of reminding us of the theatrical artifice.
Levick takes her cue from the playwright's opening monologue, in which Tom Wingfield tells us about the play ahead, outlining the construction, conceits and symbolism of his autobiographical tale of an overbearing mother, a pitifully shy sister and the narrator himself, a Shakespeare-in-waiting.
Played by Robert Jack with still and steady control, he brings on a microphone to address us directly, like a self-aware performance artist. The set behind him is raised as if it too were in quotation marks, something to be examined like poor Laura Wingfield's collection of glass trinkets. Levick's introduction of movement sequences, choreographed by Joan Clevillé, are too intrusive an attempt to turn the domestic into the poetic, but you can see what she's driving at.
In most productions, Amanda Wingfield is a larger-than-life matriarch with a delusional memory of her upbringing in the American south. Here, Irene Macdougall is very much life-size, a woman already defeated by her fall into single parenthood, cheap fabrics and an apartment that's all dowdy autumnal colours. Mark Doubleday emphasises the gloomy air by lighting the room with the heavy shadows and harsh highlights of an Edward Hopper painting. Amanda's level of self-deceit escalates, but her hopes for Laura's first and only gentleman caller are born of sad desperation, not real belief.
Opposite a personable Thomas Cotran as the dinner guest, Millie Turner plays the fragile Laura with an eagerness to please that makes her luckless story even sadder. For all the self-consciousness of the staging, it remains a touching and tender tale.