Our Town

Thornton Wilder
Savio(u)r Theatre Company
Camden People's Theatre

Production photo

Whilst the Bridge Project runs at the Old Vic, another international group of actors are treading the boards over at the Camden People's Theatre. Although the Savio(u)r Theatre Company states that it is dedicated to uniting British and American artists through theatre, Australian and Irish actors also make up the talented cast of Our Town.

Unfortunately this production falls at the first hurdle as sight lines throughout the three acts are appalling. Unless seated in the front row, you can almost forget seeing large chunks of the action. This is, of course, one of the downsides of unreserved seating. Bringing the scenes further centre stage and setting them slightly further back would solve this problem and mean that, regardless of where you are seated, you get a good view. The Camden People's Theatre is an intimate fringe venue and with tickets at a flat rate, as is usually the case, each audience member should really be entitled to the same theatrical experience.

The premise of the piece is simple: a snapshot into American life at the turn of the 20th Century. Unfortunately this snapshot becomes tiresome almost as soon as it has started, with the play's episodic structure dragging as the tirade of theatrical units seems never ending. Our Town is, however, a gift for showcases and teaching drama as any scene could be chosen as a self-contained piece of theatre for actors to explore and get their teeth into.

Energy and life is injected into the production by Nick Bosanko and Lydia Outhwaite who get the opportunity to show off some glorious multi-roling. Both excel in their parts and create a collection of magnificently comic characters for the audience to enjoy. Particularly amusing are Outhwaite's Mrs. Soames, who has 'never seen such a beautiful wedding', and Bosanko's Jedwardesque coiffured Professor Willard. There is also a wonderful scene when, as Rebecca Gibbs, Outhwaite relays a very long postal address to her brother which was met with much laughter from the audience due to Outhwaite's superb characterisation and delivery.

Michael Totton and Zoë Swenson-Graham play the leads George Gibb and Emily Webb around whom the production unfurls. The scene in which they realise their love for each other is acted most tenderly and rightly evokes those awkward emotions associated with young love. Intense performances from the two actors also come in the more sombre Act Three and demonstrate that these are two very strong performers.

Kate Gorman has included a lot of miming in her direction, perhaps to do away with cluttered props and the cast mime a variety of daily activities with extreme precision. It is, however, somewhat confusing as to why in Act Two coffee mugs and cutlery adorn the table when coffee pot, food and plates are all mimed. The inclusion of these properties only emphasises the lack of stage props throughout the piece and undermines the overall directorial concept.

Wilder's play won the Pulitzer Prize in 1938. Today it seems dated, but serves as a just reminder of what life was once like. Theatrical styles have changed and evolved greatly over the past 72 years, but the play's moral message is still as fresh as when first performed all those years ago.

Playing until 18th July 2010

Reviewer: Simon Sladen

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