by Thornton Wilder.
King’s Head Theatre 115 Upper Street N1 1QN To 20 July 2013.
Tue-Sat 7.15pm Sun 3pm.
RUNS 2hr Two intervals.
TICKETS: 020 7478 0160.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 July.
Rough-hewn but increasingly forceful revival of little-seen classic.
Last December Tim Sullivan directed two 1931 Thornton Wilder one-act plays at the King’s Head. Our Town, a full-length walk on the Wilder side premiered seven years later, is a taller order and not all performances are up to it. But Sullivan’s clarity and perception have the play’s considerable measure.
At first it seems a tour of a sleepy little New England community. But the Stage Manager, Wilder’s narrator, soon comments on time’s impact, and as Grover’s Corners moves from 1901 to 1904, that’s sufficient gap for young bodies to feel the onset of stiffness and age, recalling the speeded-up generations of The Long Christmas Dinner (seen last December), while there’s an early, almost casual reference to mortality.
By act two qualms about a production depicting a small-town where the same families have dominated since early days through a cast with accents from round the world, and a wide range of acting quality, melt in light of Sullivan’s understanding of Wilder’s vision.
Beneath the minimalist stage experiment, what starts as a US Under Milk Wood, moves on to examine love and death. Grover’s Corners takes on a wider significance as Wilder presents something like Bernard Shaw’s Life Force driving humanity. And Wilder revisited all this four years later, replacing the everyday surface with a mythic trawl through time in The Skin of Our Teeth, his (shorter) equivalent of Shaw’s Back to Methusaleh.
Young Emily Webb increasingly becomes Our Town‘s focus; the middle act focusing on her wedding to George Gibbs. Nervously loving, Stuart Clegg and Zoë Swenson-Graham make no room for sophisticated dissimulation. She, particularly, portrays a sweet innocence in quick details of expression and speech, making her fate a cold shock.
Yet the final graveyard act is rightly the climax of Sullivan’s production, the King’s Head’s intimacy placing the seated figures of the dead almost among the audience, Emily’s will to live soon turning out a mistake as she becomes a ghostly presence helplessly observing her own past.
Wilder unsentimentally shows that mortality gives value to life. Similarly, this production’s limitations highlight its central dramatic navigation of Our Town.
Stage Manager: Simon Dobson.
Mrs Gibbs: Tamarin McGinley.
Dr Gibbs: Sam Child.
Mrs Webb: Rita Walters.
Joe Crowell/Professor Willard/Sui Crowell/Sam Craig: Alex Nasmyth.
Howie Newsom/Wally Webb: Dylan Lincoln.
Emily Webb: Zoë Swenson-Graham.
George Gibbs: Stewart Clegg.
Rebecca Gibbs: Siu-See Hung.
Mr Webb: Ben Z Fuiava.
Lady in a Box: Cristina Haraba.
Mrs Soames: Princess McDonnough.
Simon Stimson: Giovanni Bienne.
Constable Warren/Joe Stoddard: Andres Ortiz.
Director: Tim Sullivan.
Designer: Neil Gordon.
Lighting: Paul O’Shaughnessy.
Musical Director: Dominic O’Hanlon.