Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer prize winning play Our Town first opened on Broadway in 1938, and has since become an absolutely beloved part of the American theatre repertoire. According to the Almeida's artistic director Rupert Goold in a programme note, "It's even said that it's been performed every night somewhere in America since 1938, though it is considerably less well-known to audiences here".
Last seen in the West End in 1991, when Robert Sean Leonard starred in it at the Shaftesbury Theatre, this production by David Cromer originated in Chicago in 2008 before transferring for a long run to Off-Broadway's Barrow Street Theatre the following year.
Its tender, delicate portrait of small-town, ordinary lives has come to have an extraordinary resonance, partly thanks to the bold but simple, stripped back simplicity of its metatheatrical storytelling, which has a stage manager on hand as our narrator, scene-setter and guide.
Cromer himself plays that narrator, and becomes something of an outsider to the events that are being portrayed by dint of his American accent, since as director he has taken the interesting decision to have the sprawling cast perform in their native British accents.
It may add to the theatricality of the occasion, but the specificity of Wilder's text is slightly distorted in an attempt to universalise it.
Wilder's own stage instructions specify 'No curtain, no scenery'. There is never a curtain at the Almeida anyway, but the theatre - reconfigured so that some of the audience sits in traverse on what would be the stage area itself - becomes part of the scenery of the action itself, until there's a late reveal that I won't give away here.
There's a gorgeous generosity to the playing, though, in any accent, and after the Almeida's previous play Little Revolution, offers a second detailed portrait of community life in action.
I loved getting to know this town again, and some of its residents.
"But the most daring decision is to cast this quintessentially American play with British actors. At first it seems odd, but you soon grasp that the aim is to show that Wilder’s play taps into our collective folk-memory. It also lends the play a rich tonal variety."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"There are some smart lines, some shafts of insight, a good performance from Lumsden and a terrific, moving one from David Walmsley as George Gibbs, who knows both great joy and great sorrow. Otherwise, Our Town lies as flat on the Almeida stage as one of Mrs Gibbs’s breakfast pancakes."
Sarah Crompton for The Daily Telegraph