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Our Town

Thornton Wilder
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
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In the economic depression and political upheaval of the late 1930s, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town imagined the simpler, kinder world of Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire where a character called the Stage Manager guided us through the births, marriage and deaths of its citizens during the years of 1901 to 1913.

The calm, reassuring voice of Laura Rogers as the Stage Manager details the certainties of a community where Howie (Louis Martin) delivers the milk, Joe (Terique Jarrett) posts the newspapers and Constable Warren (Garry Robson) checks on the doors in Main Street.

The minimal set of a semi-circle of raked seating forms part of the performance area and will later look like gravestones. Few props are used in the first half, the focus of the play being the story of a community and in particular the growing affection between Emily (Francesca Henry) and George (Arthur Hughes) who fall in love in act 1, get married in act 2 and face the possibility of death in act 3.

And in case we think the turbulence of the world beyond the theatre of late 1930s is absent, we have an actor in the audience demanding to know, “is there no-one in town aware of social injustice and industrial inequality?” To which the editor (Tom Edden) of the local newspaper replies, “everybody is”, though we never hear what that awareness amounts to.

There are also reminders of the wider role of America with the Stage Manager early on telling us of the wasted life of one of the characters dying in the First World War and Emily being asked in school to give a presentation on the imperialist policies of the Monroe Doctrine and the Louisiana Purchase. But these echoes of a troubled world beyond the theatre are few and it could be easy to get lost in the sentimental given the play’s ordinary, mildly amusing characters and at times moving unaccompanied singing of the hymn “Blessed be the ties that bind us”.

This is something that Ellen McDougall as director avoids and in the only major deviation from a traditional presentation of the play, and a very effective one at that, casts a woman in the role of the Stage Manager.

All the same, the show can feel as if it might at any moment slip into becoming a warm weather version of It's a Wonderful Life that urges us to value community.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna