If there’s a lot of miming going on in this play, whether it’s related to making coffee or opening and then remembering to shut a front gate, those are the prescribed directions by Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) for Our Town. Mind you, this is not a production that sticks absolutely rigidly to every direction – for instance, two intervals are prescribed, which makes sense for a three-act play in which each act is very distinct from the others, but here, the show makes do with one, leaving an awkward silence between the end of Act Two and the beginning of Act Three.
Act One, then, is a long introduction to the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, in 1901 (Act Two is set in 1904, and Act Three in 1913). I am not entirely sure what a New Hampshire accent from that era should sound like, but I would safely assume from the accents with which these characters spoke that they must have come from all over the United States to settle in what may well have been a new town.
There’s a nice little ‘pre-show’ (that is, where the actors are on stage before the show’s prescribed starting time, setting mood and creating atmosphere) – displaying skilled touches of actor-musicianship. The Stage Manager (Jo Green), slightly confusingly not the show’s actual stage manager, is the closest thing the play has to a chorus or a narrator, guides the audience through proceedings, almost like a tour guide on one of those open top buses to be found in many a major city. The level of detailed description is almost pedantic, including the locations of the town’s churches of various denominations and other landmarks.
Not all the punchlines and style of humour retains the level of hilarity it did when the play was first published and performed. I appreciate that it is all too easy to label a play as ‘dated’, but the sort of advice that was being passed down from generation to generation here could be easily Googled in this day and age (other search engines are available). A series of characters saying ‘Goodnight!’ to one another at the end of the evening is comparable to the closing minute or so of every episode of The Waltons.
I question the relevance of this play, despite the sheer pleasantness and civility of its characters that could teach some of today’s terser people how to behave. In one scene most of the lights are out in the houses of the town by 9:30pm. By contrast, the evening news bulletins (rolling news channels excepted) today do not broadcast until 10:00pm. With little if anything to relate to – apparently watching the sunrise passes for a cultural activity – it hardly endears itself to being as riveting as something with more controversial material or subject matter.
This portrayal of ‘ordinary’ life is, therefore, just that: very, very ordinary. The final section of Act Three reminded me of the last bit of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, but without quite so much moralising and attempting to make amends. Not that any significant wrongs needed to be put right anyway: the most unpalatable thing in the whole play is a man with a drinking problem.
The stand-out performance for me came from Kenzie Luce as Emily Webb – the character exudes a wide range of human emotion. The young bride’s frantic train of thought apparently inspired the Stephen Sondheim number ‘Getting Married Today’ in Company. In the end, Our Town is indeed about a town.
It’s nicely done, and I am only sorry I couldn’t engage with it or take much away from it. At least the cast seemed to be enjoying themselves in this somewhat dreamy and nostalgic production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Our Town, written in 1938, is the story of the fictional American small town of Grover’s Corners. A warm, extremely human, comic-drama, set in 1901 to approximately 1913, Thomas Wilder’s three-act play views Grover’s Corners through the everyday lives of its citizens.
Our Town earned Wilder one of his three Pulitzer Prizes. It is a classic and simple bitter-sweet tale of life, love, growing up and loss. The play, which remains popular today and which has enjoyed frequent revivals around the world has well withstood the test of time. This may be, in no small part, due the fact that it is really “an unforgettable evocation of Everytown”, so can strike a chord with audiences, in any town, at any time.
An award-winning New York Production was brought to the Almeida Theatre in 2014 and The Tower Theatre is proud to be the latest London group to bring this classic back to the London stage. A popular curriculum inclusion, this is a perfect play, family friendly, for groups of school goers to experience (see our group discount offer below). Do not miss your chance to see only one of six performances, book today to avoid disappointment.
The Tower Theatre Company Presents
By Thornton Wilder
Directed by Lily Ann green
Evenings at 7.30pm
Tuesday 21st Feb – Saturday 25th Feb
Matinée at 3.00pm
Saturday 25th February
The Tower Theatre performing at
The Bridewell, off Fleet Street.