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Pamela Rabe comes to Canberra for ‘The Glass Menagerie’

Laura Peppas

Pamela Rabe has a reputation for sinking her teeth into strong roles.

From the sadistic governor Joan ‘The Freak’ Ferguson in the hugely successful television series Wentworth to Richard III on stage, Rabe appears to revel when in the shoes of imposing characters.

It’s a similar case in Belvoir’s haunting production of American playwright Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, coming to Canberra Theatre Centre next month.

Rabe reprises her role as Amanda Wingfield, a faded southern belle and single mother obsessed with finding her daughter, Laura (played by Rose Riley) a suitor or as she puts it, a “gentleman caller.”

The play is told from the point of view of Amanda’s son Tom (Luke Mullins) who works in a warehouse, setting aside his own ambitions to support his family. The three of them live in a cramped apartment that is haunted by the absence of Amanda’s husband and pent up with fantasies and rage.

Belvoir’s take on the iconic production launched in Sydney in 2014, winning the Helpmann award last year for ‘best play’ and Rabe winning ‘best actress’ for her role as Amanda.

Rabe admits it wasn’t a role she initially saw herself playing.

“I don’t think I’d ever had Amanda on my radar because every production I’d seen they always cast relatively close to Tennessee’s description of her – a very small, birdlike, fluttering woman,” Rabe says (who at 183cm is statuesque in comparison).

“But when I was approached I thought ‘wow, [this is] scary but let’s go for it.’ Luckily audiences have embraced it a great deal.”

The glass menagerie1234

Pamela Rabe and Luke Mullins on stage. Photo: Brett Boardman

Amanda’s controlling nature has been likened to Joan Ferguson, another award-winning role for Rabe, though she is hesitant to compare the two.

“They both are obsessive personalities, but it kind of ends there,” she says.

“You could argue they both have a tendency to delude themselves in the best way to go about achieving their goals – and Amanda has got the welfare of her children at heart, you could argue that Joan has the welfare of her prisoners at heart.

“I love Joan but I love Amanda as well, that desperate pragmatism to make do and survive in a very cruel world between world wars in America and as a single mother, with two children who for whatever reason don’t seem to be fitting in.”

Rabe says Director Eamon Flack’s approach sticks to a similar formula to the original stage production, which premiered in Chicago in 1944.

“Having met Tennessee and worked on plays with him, I’m very aware of his works,” Rabe says.

“He had dreams and hopes of exploring a non-naturalistic theatre – he called it a ‘plastic theatre’, an expressionist style with screens and projections. This had been left by the wayside for other productions or films that I had seen of The Glass Menagerie and I think Eamon was really excited about going back and exploring what Tennessee’s original intention had been, to marry both naturalism and the magic of theatre making into one production and see where it takes us. And as we revisit it again, it feels absolutely right.”


the essentials

What: The Glass Menagerie
When: 3 – 7 May 2016
Where: Canberra Theatre Centre
How much: Tickets from $35

Feature image: Brett Boardman


Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author

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