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Our Town (Susan Elkin reviews)

Our Town – ★★
By Thornton Wilder.
society/company: Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
performance date: 25 May 2019
venue: Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Photo: Johan Persson

★★

There are several enjoyable elements in this revival of Thornton Wilder’s 1938 theatrical experiment. I’m afraid, however, that a splendid central performance from Laura Rogers, some haunting singing, touching moments and strong sound design does not make this piece cohere. And sometimes its 2 hr 10 minute run time (including an interval) seems a long haul.

Basically it’s a play within a play although I would probably have struggled to work that out had I not read it up at home first. We are in a very ordinary New Hampshire town in the early years of the 20th Century at three different times, the story of which a company of actors are later acting out in small scenes. Laura Rogers, as Stage Manager, narrates the story, introduces the characters and comments on their experiences of birth, death, marriage, family life and hard work. She brings attractive, witty warmth to this along with a nicely judged sense of impartiality.

There’s a great deal of quite neat mime from this unusually large ensemble cast of nineteen. Thusitha Jayasundera as Mrs Webb stringing beans, helped by and chatting to first Pandora Colin as Mrs Gibbs and then by her daughter Emily (Francesca Henry – good) is convincing, for example. So is Rogers, temporarily and hilariously, becoming the gruff drugstore owner, making ice cream sodas.

I also like the way characters quite often emerge not just from auditorium aisles but also from seats. It’s imaginative use of space and mildly immersive. Otherwise most of them sit on a bank of seats facing us to suggest that they are rehearsing in a theatre. And it’s excellent to see such a gloriously diverse cast including two fine actors with visible disabilities.

The point that director Ellen McDougall and her cast are trying to make – as indeed the playwright is – is that every community – however tucked away and humdrum – is a microcosm of the great themes of human life. For me this production doesn’t deliver that message as powerfully or clearly as it might.

Photo: Johan Persson

 
First published by Sardineshttp://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-Regent%27s%20Park%20Open%20Air%20Theatre%20(professional%20productions)-Our%20Town%20-%20%E2%98%85%E2%98%85&reviewsID=3585
 
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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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