Play: Our Town
Theatre: Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Playwright: Thornton Wilder
Director: Ellen McDougall
Review by Tamera Heron
Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Our Town is set in the fictional New Hampshire town Grover’s Corners, between 1901 and 1913. This three-act play starts as a simple tale of day-to-day life, but ends on a haunting and reflective note.
As requested by Wilder, the set is minimalist with no scenery with only banked seating to reflect the auditorium, leaving the audience to use their imagination, and draw upon memories of their own home towns.
Grover’s Corners has a captivating narrator in the Stage Manager (Laura Rogers), who also plays several other characters, including a comical ice-cream shop owner, earning scattered laughs.
‘Daily Life’ ( Act I) is set in 1904 and focuses on the mundane, repetitive and yet seemingly content lives of the residents. We meet characters such as The Sentinel’s editor Charles Webb (Tom Edden) and Dr Frank Gibbs (Karl Collins), Their daily chit-chat limits itself to the topic of new twins, the alcoholic choir leader, or the moonlight on a clear night. When not performing, the cast sit on the stairs, peacefully observing the lives of the other residents. Their good-natured meandering through life is almost too pleasant and borderline robotic.
Act II takes place three years later, and centre’s around ‘Love and Marriage’, particularly that of Emily Webb (Francesa Henry) and George Gibbs (Arthur Hughes), introduced in Act I as pre-adolescents. Looking back at when their romance first started, the narrator asks the audience to remember the sensation of being young and in love, “like a person sleepwalking”. This moment for Emily and George is endearing and relatable. In fact, the first two acts are so ordinary, some may wonder why they are watching life when they live it everyday.
By Act III – ‘Death and Eternity’ – the sun had set in Regent’s park and nine years has flown by in Grover’s Corner. On this particular day, Emily Webb has been laid to rest after dying during giving birth to her second child. Sat upon the stairs are a select few characters, who have already passed away, watching her funeral. Emily, remaining her usual bubbly self, joins them. She is not saddened by the tears of her mourning husband, but instead is happy to have lived alongside gaining a new unspoken understanding of eternity.
Emily is then given a choice which she seizes, raising important questions about our failure to embrace life. As perfectly phrased by Emily: “Do human beings ever realise life while they live it? — Every, every minute?”.
At the start of the play Laura Rogers’ Stage Manager reveals that they would like to bury a copy of Our Town in Grover’s Corners’ time capsule. The hope is that a thousand years later, people would know what life was like in their idyllic American town. Although a century hasn’t yet passed, the message from Our Town is the fact that we live in “ignorance and blindness” is more relevant today than a century ago.
Our Town is in Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until the 8 of June 2019.