Review: Our Town
Our kind of town.
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There’s only one place to celebrate the official UK 75th anniversary of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece Our Town, and that’s the charmingly intimate space of the Kings Head Theatre on Upper Street.
Charting the slow changes to a small New Hampshire town and generations of its citizenry in the early 20th century, the play opens on a prologue from Stage Manager-cum-narrator Simon Dobson, as he steps through and breaks the typical fourth wall audience boundary, delivering a guided tour of Grover’s Corners topology. Seemingly all knowing, the Stage Manager softens the drop into the theatre space, empty of a set, where the opening scene begins to unfold with characters miming actions sans props.
Recounting the everyday lives of an average citizen in Grover’s Corner and gently following the budding romance of a young couple from friendship, through to marriage and onto death, we creep through the years with the residents of Grover’s Corner and their children growing up, working, getting married, living and eventually, in some cases, dying in a town where everybody knows everybody’s business and nobody locks the front door at night.
Early on in the prologue, Dobson takes us through the graveyard and explains that the names borne on the tombstones stretching from 1680 to turn of the twentieth century are the same family names you’ll find in town “today”. What this tells us from the start is that change in Grover’s Corner is slow and steady, which carefully sets the pace for the following three acts, throughout which Dobson is totally engaging, directing questions at members of the audience dipping in and out of scenes, peppering frozen moments with context and occasionally shushing the named players mid-word.
Dr. Gibbs (Sam Child) the town doctor of Grover’s Corner, living with his wife (Tamarin McGinley) who whimsically daydreams about a vacation to Paris, France, and their children teenage George (Stewart Clegg) and Rebecca (Siu-See Hung). Next-door live newspaperman Mr. Webb (Ben Z. Fuiava) with wife (Rita Walters) children Emily (Zoë Swenson-Graham) and Wally (Dylan Lincoln).
This three-act play is seasoned with so much spectacular character acting. The dynamics between mother and daughter, father and son are cheerfully explored. How to tame a prospective wife and what to expect on the wedding night are both discussed and not. While mothers mime their ways through the daily drudge of their morning routines, feeding their families and sending them out into the worlds of school and work, fathers have serious talks with sons about duty, responsibility and the future.
The neighbouring women gossip about church choirmaster Simon Stimson (Giovanni Bienne) who drinks too much and isn’t cut out for small town life, if you catch our drift. Zoe Swenson-Graham [SPOILER-ISH ALERT] will break your heart in the third act as the Emily [deceased] who is granted permission to re-live just one day in her life, returning to earth to witness her twelfth birthday in the first and third person. Seeing times work unwoven, the old, young again, the sad happy again, but sleepwalking through that happiness.
Philosophical, retrospective and utterly life affirming. Wilder’s best-known and loved play is just that for a reason!
GT gives this a 4/5.
Our Town plays at the King’s Head Theatre until July 20th.
Words: Tim Mitchell