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A CurtainUp London Review
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.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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