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Review: Our Town, at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

30 May, 2019 — By Howard Loxton

Artur Hughes as George Gibbs and Francesca Henry as Emily Webb in Our Town

PLAYED, as author Thornton Wilder intended, without scenery, with props mimed, actors in modern dress and a bank of seating behind the stage to remind us we are in a theatre, Ellen McDougall’s production presents a picture of a small New Hampshire town at the beginning of the 20th century.

Laura Rogers as the friendly Stage Manager, tells us about Grover’s Corners, its churches, the scent of heliotrope in Mrs Gibson’s garden and the people whom we see from early-risers milkman Howie (Louis Martin), and the paper delivery boy to The Sentinel’s editor Charles Webb (Tom Edden) and Dr Frank Gibbs (Karl Collins), who every two years visits Civil War battlefields rather than make the cultural trips to Europe his wife might like.

The Gibbs and the Webbs are at the centre of the story. After presenting the general scene in 1904 in the first act called “Daily Life” the second act, “Love and Marriage,” traces the blossoming love between the doctor’s son George and Emily Webb. Beautifully played by Arthur Hughes and Francesca Henry, the reality of their feeling is matched by the ice-cream sodas he buys. Just as real are their uncertainties just before they meet at the altar.

The second act ends in a shower of confetti but the final act, “Death and Eternity,” looks back from the after life to a vivid reality in which those who have passed on regret the way the living have no time to truly see things around them.

Today the metatheatre method is no longer new and at first Our Town may seem slight and slow moving but detailed ensemble performances and growing involvement with the Gibbs and the Webbs holds the attention. Its effect is as ironic in Trump time as it must have been when written in 1938.

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