Our Town

Malvern Theatres Young Company

Malvern Festival Theatre

****

THE combination of a professional creative team and a company of talented young actors works a treat once again at Malvern Festival Theatre this week.

It serves to bring the best out of the young team and does credit to this thought-provoking and at times moving classic by Thornton Wilder, one of America’s foremost twentieth century playwrights.

In a truly Brechtian style, we do not get drawn emotionally into the characters and their situations for a sustained period of time. The device of the Stage Manager, introducing the action and intervening frequently to explain the situations and characters, serves to distance us from the emotional life of the characters; he also adds philosophical commentary and acts as a chorus to embody the writer’s voice.

The narrative explores the life of two families in a small town in New Hampshire in three acts: in Act One we see George Gibbs and Emily Webb as young teenagers in the midst of their school years; in Act Two, they get married a few years later; in Act Three, a few years later, weour town poster are exploring death in the family and community – Emily dies in childbirth, other members of family and neighbourhood have passed away and mortality is explored.

This production is very faithful to Wilder’s original intentions and is visually excellent. The use of minimal props, of mime, of clever lighting and simple but highly effective design results in some very striking images. The wedding scene, the funeral scene, and some of the night scenes were beautifully portrayed.

Likewise the use of songs was highly evocative and added to the moments when powerful emotive impressions were required.

The acting performances showed evidence of a team very well directed and prepared. There are some talented young actors in the cast: Jacob Buckley (Stage Manager), Saskia Nicholls (Emily), Toby Burchell (George Gibbs), Toby Platt (Simon Stimson), Ben Mowbray (Dr Gibbs), Lorna Rolinson (Mrs Webb), and Emily Henry (Mrs Soames) carried particular conviction.

Jacob Buckley has some very long speeches which require great versatility and variety. He has a strong stage presence and carried off the part very well. Sometimes one felt the writing of his part by Wilder was excessive, but Jason delivered it very effectively.

His English accent, as a detached individual from the action and characters in the story, made more sense than the fact that the rest of the cast were split in adopting an American accent or not for no obvious reason.

Saskia Nicholls and Toby Burchell were particularly effective in their portrayal of the cinema scene when they found their love for each other. Toby Platt managed the drunkenness of his character remarkably well, mimed effectively and achieved considerable comic impact as well.

Our Town is a philosophical and reflective play. I wondered whether the dead in Act Three seemed rather grim and depressed and might have been more optimistic in the light of the Stage Manager’s words. ‘They’re waitin’ for something that they feel is comin’. Something important and great. They are waitin’ for the eternal part in them to come out clear.’

Generally this is a fascinating and thought-provoking play, beautifully designed and directed, acted with great competence and occasional brilliance. It runs to Saturday, 13 August in Festival Theatre.

Tim Crow

10-08-16 

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