Our Town at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
In 2019 it maybe takes a certain level of adjustment to watch Our Town. The play is sincere to the point of cheesiness – something Ellen McDougall’s production isn’t wary enough of. Even its pioneering meta-theatricality is incredibly earnest. But stick with it and it reaches a wonderfully moving ghostly climax.
After introducing the entire cast – one that looks like an actual, modern community; see, it’s not that hard, theatre world – Laura Rogers’s Stage Manager takes us on a tour of Grover’s Corner, a slice of small-town life where nothing and everything changes. Neighbourhood sweethearts fall in love and get married. The milkman comes and goes. Meals are prepared, cooked and eaten on an endless loop. A journey that culminates at the cemetery on the hill.
Rosie Elnile’s set is a rundown mirror of the Open Air’s auditorium. Slightly beaten up seats lined up in a row and stacked high. That the cast often cross the stage/audience divide only enhances the idea that what we are witnessing are the basic elements of our own daily lives: love, family, death. As playwright Thornton Wilder dictates, bar one important instance – a perfect memory – the actors get by with a few chairs and a couple of tables for props, pantomiming their way through their domestic chores. It gives off a purposeful amateur feel, like the piece itself is a time capsule put together by the community in question.
It must be very difficult to perform this piece. The depictions of ordinariness can veer towards cloying, made worse by American accents that emphasise the play’s more gee-shucks moments. Having the cast use their own accents would perhaps have tempered this feeling and been truer to the spirit of the play. Not that there aren’t individual highlights. As ever, Tom Edden is great comic value as Editor Webb, while Arthur Hughes and Francesca Henry bring great sweetness, and later pain, to the show’s central pairing.
Our Town’s final act is what makes it truly memorable, on page and on stage. Chairs become gravestones and the dead face what they, not the living, have lost. It’s the culmination of the simple complexity Wilder was chasing, and as the stars come out over Regent’s Park, it’s beautiful.
Photo: Johan Persson
Our Town is at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre from 16th May until 8th June 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.