Our Town is one of the classics of American literature. First performed in 1938, Thornton Wilder’s play won a Pulitzer Prize for its minimalist depiction of everyday American life, and has since been performed by actors as diverse as Helen Hunt, Paul Newman and Frank Sinatra. In fact, it is one of the world’s most performed plays.
As you might expect from a play of this stature it explores a number of themes – childhood, love, marriage, death – centred around the characters of George and Emily. The whole thing is overseen by the Stage Manager, who stands outside the action and guides the audience through the proceedings. These people live, they marry, they die; nothing much happens, and yet something eternal and cosmic is captured, in the same way that billions of tiny, meaningless molecules add up to make a whole human life.
At the time it was first performed Our Town achieved notoriety partly thanks to its staging, or rather its lack thereof. Wilder believed that by not using a set – or even any props – audiences would create their own in their imaginations, making for a more intimate connection with the drama. In this Royal Exchange adaption that principal remains, although with some embellishments from acclaimed designer Fly Davis that allow the audience to sit within the town itself.
Royal Exchange artistic director Sarah Frankcom (Hamlet, The Skriker, A Streetcar Named Desire) takes the lead on this one, which, if her recent productions are anything to go by, means this play about normal life will be far from ordinary.