Our Town

Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play Our Town searches for the beauty in the mundane. It shows us that we should celebrate routine, family, the tiny moments that we call life, that so often pass us by within our ambition and haste to achieve. Set in a small town both physically and metaphorically, this is a perfect play for the embracing round format of the Royal Exchange, a play without props, where it is the dialogue that counts.  When a man is drunk he’s not the sort of person who fits into this small town.

I love sitting in cafes watching people, and this is very much the feel of the first of the three acts. As the play opens,  the cast and a handful of audience members are seated at tables in the centre of the stage.  It’s as if the writer and director have singled out the most fascinating conversations from within what appears at first to be an amorphous group.  When I watch people I also love to guess where they have come from, where they are going. This play does that too; we are in the privileged position of being able to consider lives in their entirety, to question the decisions people make.

The play develops through two further acts that become more questioning and reflective, and the staging becomes more sparse to reflect this.  Norah Lopez Holden is outstanding as young Emily Webb who doesn’t have the patience or worldliness to understand what she has until it is too late.  She marries George Gibbs (Patrick Elue), but deep down she knows she has made a mistake that she can’t go back on.  Who is there to guide her when she herself is the one who does not fit small town life?  The beauty of the mundane can also be destructively constraining; some of us need to escape.

In the end Sarah Frankcom’s production hits home with compassion and warmth.  Despite being eighty years old, the play feels fresh and the themes relevant to today.  She brings the audience directly into the story through the seating and by making full use of the breaking of the fourth wall by the narrator.  She introduces both the young and elders companies, and community choirs, to the heart of the production.  That makes this a play about all of us.

Royal Exchange 14 Sept – 14 Oct 2017

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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