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A CurtainUp London London Review
Our Town

"You're pretty enough for all normal purposes." —Mrs Webb
Our Town
David Cromer as the Stage Manager (Photo: Marc Brenner)
In a resonating piece of programming, following on from Alecky Blythe's picture of London in the riots of 2011 comes Thornton Wilder's American classic about life and death in small town America from 1901 to 1913. This is a whole world and century away from looting and burning cars. David Cromer who directed and narrated as the Stage Manager in New York in 2009, recreates his production with British actors. Although I have never before seen the play and don't recall seeing the film, I had read about the production with its lack of set and miming actions of the actors so I knew what to expect.

Again with the audience seated on three sides, there is a walkway between the first two rows of chairs and the rest for the actors to walk in. On a balcony will sing the church choir led by the annoyed, alcoholic choir master Simon Stimson (Christopher Staines). Breaking the fourth wall, for there is no fourth wall in this production, we are all residents of Grover's Corners. At the village meeting audience members are given cards to read out questions for the speakers to give demographic information about the town. When George Gibbs (David Walmsley) and Emily Webb (Laura Elsworthy) get married, Mrs Soames (Annette McLaughlin) will comment on the loveliness of the bride, those well meaning cliches uttered at weddings on the happiness of the occasion, involving members of the audience seated close by her.

Cromer has chosen actors from all over the British Isles and they keep their local accents rather than using American ones, maybe emphasising the commonality of us all in the patterns of existence. The programme cover is an outline map of America with the names of the British cities, maybe where the actors come from, randomly placed. The dress is also modern dress. We are told in the programme that the designer has chosen clothes close to what the actors actually wear so that the clothing distinction between the audience and the cast is blurred.

I puzzled at the miming of household tasks we see from Mrs Gibbs (Anna Francolini) and Mrs Webb (Kate Dickie). What is that vegetable one woman is preparing with three actions of removing stalks? Is she stringing short beans? The women toil in their homes providing and preparing food for their families.

The middle act sees the courtship and wedding and gives us Mr Webb (Richard Lumsden)'s advice to George, "The best thing to do is give an order. Even if it doesn't make sense, she'll learn to obey." This has a ring of desperation about it. Despite the bride's nerves, the marriage goes ahead.

The final act sees the people lined up in the graveyard, sitting upright, with the Stage Manager giving some lyrical descriptions of the countryside alongside Grover's Corners, the landscape, the weather, the mountain laurel and lilacs. Then there are those researching their ancestry to claim membership of the Daughters of the American Revolution or descendants of the Mayflower and the Civil War veterans.

As a piece, Our Town has the charm of Little House on the Prairie with its everyday stories, in a life before the Great War, when people rarely divorced and women still died in childbirth. So it has both nostalgia and universal relevance. It is remarkable that this unsophisticated portrait of a simple community has such a lasting and absorbing staging.

For Elyse Sommer's review of David Cromer's production in 2009 go here.

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Our Town
Written Thornton Wilder
Directed by David Cromer

Starring: David Cromer, Anna Francolini, Rhashan Stone, Richard Lumsden, David Walmsley, Laura Elsworthy, Kate Dickie
With: Ma tthew Jacobs-Morgan, Daniel Kendrick, Jessica Lester, Arthur Byrne, Joe Bunker, Christopher Staines, Annette McLaughlin, Sidney Cole, Michael Ajao, Paul Bigley, Simon Lennon, James Clarkson, Anthony Fagan, Francesca Fenech, Elliot Hall, Tessa Wood.
Set designed by Stephen Dobay
Costume design: Alison Siple
Composer: Jonathan Mastro
Lighting Design: Heather Gilbert
Running time: Two hours 10 minutes with two intervals
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking to 29th November 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th October 2014 performance at The Almeida Theatre, Upper Street, London N1 1TA (Tube: Angel, Islington)
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