The Glass

Greta Scacchi has escaped the stereotype of ageing starlet. Francine Cohen talks to her during rehearsals and finds a woman looking to her future, not her past

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The set is black, stripped back save for two white lamps. Centre stage is the one time ice cool femme fatale of Hollywood movies Greta Scacchi. Now 55 and reprising a different kind of role since her days of stripping off in White Mischief and Heat and Dust, Scacchi gives a tour de force performance as Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. She’s the mother from hell, overbearing, over-protective and over-ambitious for her two children – a faded Southern belle who once had 17 gentleman callers but married a telephone engineer who left her and their two children for “long distance”.

“I discovered recently reading his memoirs that it is very autobiographical and based on Williams’s mother,” says Scacchi during rehearsals. “Apparently she had mental health problems – one of those things that was seemingly so rife in those days, I suspect because of the constraints of society and attitude to women. A woman only had to have a little hormonal blip and she’d be given a frontal lobotomy!”

Scacchi, a mum of two herself, adds: “It has been very helpful to discover close links, in his memoirs, between his home life and the play. Homosexuals were in the closet in those days, and you see evidence of what his lifestyle was like. It’s really harrowing to feel that he may have had that homosexual struggle with a mother who is straight, self-righteous and probably rendered quite frigid with morals blocking everything.”

Scacchi is quite the opposite of the grand, yet reserved, screen English actor you might expect.

“Well, I am half Italian!” she laughs while eating a takeaway supermarket mozzarella salad.
Her English mother and Italian father divorced when she was eight. Her mother remarried and the family moved to Perth in Australia. “The Glass Menagerie was one of the plays that I first saw when we moved to Western Oz,” she explains. “I had already dreamed of being an actress and I fell in love with Tennessee Williams.”

By the age of 22 she was making hit Hollywood movies. “So many dreams of mine came true. I did feel very confident, when I was young, that I could focus on something and win it, have it, succeed. Then life taught me that some things weren’t always attainable or sustainable, visions that I had of relationships with men who, as much as they tried, couldn’t fulfil me. It was difficult.”

She’s fought for some time now to shake off her ingénue image and hasn’t gone the route of her contemporaries with plastic surgery. “It’s not easy shaking people’s preconceptions of you. I’d love to play more comedy but people don’t see me like that.”

In that vein Scacchi brings humour to The Glass Menagerie, an otherwise dark tale of repression and suppression. There are scenes where she dances barefoot, in an old chiffon skirt and daft headdress, that as well as being very funny change our perceptions of her character from monster to victim.

Scacchi’s abiding inspiration was and still is her own mother. “She is now 84 and still goes to tap dancing classes. She was supportive of my desire to act from the word go. She was never pushy though.”

As she gets up to leave she appears to be in a reflective mood. “Even in my gloomiest moments I ask myself, would I rather be in anybody else’s shoes,” she says. “I really like this life and feel attached to this life, and want to see what happens next.”

The Glass Menagerie is at Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, 7-31 Oct

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The Glass

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