Our Town review Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
PUBLISHED: 13:22 24 May 2019
Thornton Wilder’s tale of the simple lives of simple folk is a plea for community and connection in divided times
Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer prize-winning play about the smalltown community of Grover's Corner New Hampshire is famously in almost continual performance.
His insistence on no set and props makes it friendly to school and am-dram groups, but it is accessible in other ways - in exploring the simple lives of simple folk, their births marriages and deaths, it is about both nothing and everything - the human condition itself.
And its then revolutionary device of a stage manager directly addressing the audience feels enduringly fresh and contemporary.
Ellen McDougall's open air production takes a while to work its magic over a lengthy first half.
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The understated inconsequence of the doings of doctors and milkmen, housewives and schoolchildren at the turn of the 20th Century can seem mildly diverting rather than engrossing.
A diverse and talented ensemble cast sit on bleachers waiting to be introduced by Laura Rogers' black-clad stage manager, and provide the sound effects of train whistles and jingling harnesses.
But as their talk of birdsong, luminous moons, glorious sunrises, and the smell of heliotrope chimes with the descending dusk in the park, Wilder's gentle message of staying mindful to the joys and loves of everyday life hits home.
"Does anyone ever realize life while they live it?" asks Francesca Henry's wide-eyed Emily Webb, whom we have seen fall in love and get married.
The brief final act in which the dead townsfolk speak from their graves brings what's gone before into sharp focus, and McDougall's decision to endow a treasured memory with the full technicolour of frying bacon and cups on the dresser is well-judged. As a daughter and mother are heartbreakingly unable to communicate, this simple plea for community and human connection in divided times feels vitally relevant.