Directed by Tim Sullivan
Pros: A very accessible play that caters for all tastes.
Cons: Don’t go expecting lots of scenery and props – the play is meant to be minimalist.
Our Verdict: An American classic that has universal appeal.
|Courtesy of Savio(u)r Theatre Company|
I confess that initially I didn’t know much about Our Town before seeing the show. It’s a revered play that has won countless awards and has played nationwide throughout the US, so why hasn’t its esteemed reputation reached this side of the Pond? Chances are, you are already acquainted with aspects of the play, but you’ve not realised yet. TV programmes such as The Waltons owe it a huge debt, even borrowing the theatrical device of the all-knowing narrator. However, Our Town cannot be accused of being sentimental or glibly spouting ‘home truths’.
The play begins with the ‘Stage Manager’ who converses with the audience. Simon Dobson’s excellent turn as the Stage Manager is part narrator, part omniscient observer, as he gently eases the audience into the world of Grover’s Corners with his avuncular delivery. Like other members of the cast, he sits at times amongst the audience and regularly breaks the fourth wall. As he relays the minutiae of the town’s sociological make-up, we feel we aren’t watching a play, but part of an intimate gathering.
While the play looks at ‘the average American town’ at the turn of the 20th century, the main focus is on two families, the Webbs and the Gibbs – in particular, Emily Webb and George Gibb. We follow them at school, when they fall in love, the day of their marriage and life beyond. Often the best stories about journeys aren’t remarkable because of the destination, but the events along the way. Conversely, the milestones in Our Town are universally recognisable, but take on an extraordinary significance. There are philosophical threads that permeate the narrative, but as the play’s so cleverly written, it doesn’t draw overt attention to itself.
Our Town has been around for 75 years and the reason its longstanding popularity, I think, is because the central message of the play – the value of living an ‘ordinary’ life, the beauty of everyday things and not taking anything for granted. It is also a play that can be appreciated by people who don’t normally like or see plays. In addition, the absence of props in favour of actors miming their actions and the play’s minimalistic aesthetic, makes it straightforward for theatre companies of all persuasions to put on their own production. To give you a clue how iconic and effective it is, 10 years ago the Danish director Lars von Trier use this same stylised convention for his movies about America in the early 20th century – Dogville and Manderlay.
In keeping with the play’s universality, the show has an international cast. If I’m honest, I felt some of the performances were not as strong as the others, but overall the show has a good mix of people. Some of the most notable performances include Ben Fuiava, who endows his character (Mr Charles Webb) with a wry sense of humour, the aforementioned Simon Dobson and Zoë Swenson-Graham , who plays the lead Emily Webb. Her spirited performance immediately reminded me of Amy Adams’ vivacious character Ashley in the movie Junebug.
In recent years, I’ve realised how lucky and unique London is to have so many theatres on its doorstep, especially off-West End. As a consequence of visiting Our Town, I’ll certainly be adding the King’s Head Theatre to my list of fringe venues to watch. Lesser-known classics (at least to the UK) such as Our Town should find the widest audience possible. But don’t take my word for it. Go see it for yourself.
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Our Town runs at King’s Head Theatre until 20 July 2013.
Box Office: 0207 478 0160 or book online at