Review - Our Town at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to be wandering around the ancient ruins of Pompeii. Perusing the enormous site, it's easy to be awestruck by the incredible statues, structures and amphitheatres built over two millennia ago. What you don't get a sense of is the people who called Pompeii home; those who lived (and probably died) in the tiny abandoned plots along the streets are hardly given a second thought.
What Thornton Wilder's Our Town does is fill those homes with life. It tells the regular stories of a few regular people in a bog-standard regular town. But the accompanying reflection and introspection you will feel watching this play is nothing sort of extra ordinary.
Wilder's meta-theatrical masterpiece is driven by a self-aware Stage Manager who, after she introduces the case of the Open Air Theatre production, roams the set (a reflection of the theatre's raked seating) narrating the tale of the town, interrupting the action where necessary. Laura Rogers delves into the lengthy monologues which preach about the importance of living in this moment with great command throughout, but there are two moments of real poignancy.
Towards the end of the first act, after we meet Grover's Corners' families, paperboy, milkman, police officer, doctor and newspaper editor, the SM talks about memory vaults buried deep underground. In one thousand years from now, they would learn a great deal about the religion through the Bible, slavery through the Constitution, and characters through Shakespeare's tragedies and comedies, but what of real people? This play stands as a documentation and record of all of us, and the way we live.
The final act of the play looks at death, and as one character reflects on life from a different perspective, she comes to realise how we "waste time as if you had a thousand years". In an age where we measure wasted time in the amount we spend staring at our screens, the line 'Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you' carries real clout.
Ellen McDougall's production stays pretty true to traditional stagings of the play, using minimal props throughout the first two acts. It does make the first half a little difficult: we trudge towards the interval learning about relatively mundane people - it's only when their relevance is brought into focus that we sit up and pay attention.
The production springs to life in the short final act. As Emily Webb begins to see life with more clarity, in more detail, Francesca Henry stands out amongst the rest of the cast as she realises the wasted hours of her life. As her father the editor, Tom Edden, as ever, injects a huge amount of driving energy into the performance.
The play isn't a perfect fit for the Open Air. The nature of the piece is that it could adapt to any space in the world, but it doesn't seem to tap into the theatre's unique atmosphere as the best productions here do.
Our Town tickets are available now.
Photo credit: Johan Persson
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