Ben Cook reviews Our Town, Venue 1, St Andrews, 22 November
Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town is a slow journey through a slow town. Depicting life in the fictional community of Grover’s Corners, the audience is taken under the wing of the Stage Manager (David Patterson) and shown a corner of life in New Hampshire at the dawn of the twentieth century. A man not afraid to quote statistics in order to convey the ordinariness of his town, the Stage Manager breaks the fourth wall in classic Wilder style, speeding up time as well as rewinding it, all so as to put under the microscope the precious moments we take for granted. Two families, the Webbs and the Gibbs, are the focus of his and our examination, and it is in particular the courtship of George Gibbs (Will Moore) and Emily Webb (Hana Mufti) that the joy and tragedy of life are realised.
The Mermaids production, directed by Christina Richards, stays true to the original conception of the play; namely, that there is little scenery on stage and that the actors must mime their actions accordingly. This is handled well on the whole, but when more than one actor is involved the synchronisation between them jars and can be a disconcerting reminder of the limitations (some would argue the possibilities) of theatre. The acting made up for the occasional poor mime though. The cast was more than consistent and several scenes, the groom and father of the bridegroom conversation, and the ice-cream parlour scene, were hilarious and touching respectively.
As a student production miracles are not expected in terms of the costume department but the puritan outfits of Mrs. Webb (Hannah Boland) and Mrs. Gibbs (Fay Morrice) stood in stark contrast with Mrs. Soames (Chantal Morris) glaringly scarlet dress that would have looked more at home in some Elizabethan drama than in New Hampshire. However, a more crucial aspect to rendering Our Town successfully is in capturing the subtly and pathos of the minor characters, such as the matriarchs Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb, whose quiet desperation is at odds with their public persona, and Simon Stimson (Cameron Kirby) who drinks excessively for reasons only vaguely hinted at. Richards’ production manages to achieve this to a certain extent and the points where we as an audience are let down most likely form because the play itself only teases us with confronting questions such as the emancipation of women and social responsibility.
Nevertheless the final scene is made all the more powerful for all the partial glances we get into the lives of these individuals. The slow pace of the first two acts is put into perspective when we look at it through the eyes of the dead, as Emily, now deceased, looks back into the past and wishes she had treasured her time more while she was still alive. When I left the venue, I too felt like I had missed something, some hidden depth residing at the heart of the play, but it is a compliment to Richards’ production when I say that it has made me want to go back one day and try to find it.
Image credit – Alex Howarth