BWW Review: OUR TOWN, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
The first production for Regent's Park Open Air Theatre's summer 2019 season is a revival of Thornton Wilder's 1938 play, Our Town. It's a show that is constantly being revived and is particularly popular in the United States, where the play is set. It was last on the London stage at the Almeida in 2014 in a production directed by David Cromer.
Ellen McDougall, Artistic Director at the Gate Theatre, directs this revival, which focuses on the lives of a small community in Grover's Corners, a fictional town in New Hampshire. Narrated largely by the Stage Manager, played by Laura Rogers, it begins in 1901 and spans 12 years, following a number of characters in their ordinary day-to-day lives.
The first scene is set at dawn: the doctor returns home after making a house call, a police officer wanders through the neighbourhood, mothers get up to make breakfast for their families, milk and newspapers are delivered, and the children head off to school. The routine is largely unbroken.
The Stage Manager (Laura Rogers) expertly guides the audience throughout, cutting across scenes to introduce locations and characters, providing background to the town and the people who inhabit it. Split into three definitive acts - the first looks at daily life, Act Two focuses on love and marriage, and the third, death and eternity - it's a poignant look at life. We watch as two young sweethearts fall in love and get married and this is followed by a sudden death in the town.
Francesca Henry excels in her role as Emily Webb, while Rogers brings a touch of mischief to the Stage Manager as she helps lead the audience through the play. The production stays true to Wilder's wishes that his work be performed simply - the set (designed by Rosie Elnile) is bare, consisting only of tiered seating, the characters all wear modern day clothing (jeans, hoodies, etc) and there are no real props until the final act. The audience are encouraged to use their imagination throughout.
The first half is quite long - and it certainly feels it at times as we follow the residents as they go about their everyday lives. The final act is where the production really finds its feet as we return to Grover's Corners, specifically to the cemetery to learn the fate of several characters who now reside there. It offers a unique way of looking at death and implores the audience to make the most of their lives.
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre is possibly my favourite theatre venue - however this play doesn't sit quite right in the space, and the intimate bond that the audience should feel with the characters is a little lost.
Photo Credit: Johan Persson