Theatre Review: OUR TOWN – Royal Exchange, Manchester

OUR TOWN at Royal Exchange

Uniquely redefined for the present day, Sarah Frankcom’s revival of Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN is hauntingly beautiful

It is said that Thornton Wilder’s 1938 drama OUR TOWN is performed at least once every night somewhere in the world. Hardly surprising when you consider the Pulitzer Prize-winning depiction of ordinary life remains Wilder’s greatest and best-known work as a playwright.

Set between 1901 and 1913, OUR TOWN tells the story of Emily and George, two unremarkable teenagers growing up and falling in love in a small village in New Hampshire. The deceptively straightforward tale follows the everyday lives of its citizens, questioning our views on love, loss and the nature of life itself.

Simple, understated yet hauntingly beautiful, Sarah Frankcom’s revival of Wilder’s epic tale is as theatrically fresh and as topical as ever. The Royal Exchange’s intimate in-the-round space is perfectly suited to Wilder’s brand of theatricality with the metatheatrical three-act play putting the audience in the heart of the action.

Fly Davis’ simple yet effective set design sees members of the audience become part of the on-stage family, observing the action from the homes, kitchen tables and living rooms of the characters, while Jack Knowles’ distinctive lighting design mixes light and shade to great effect.

Youssef Kerkour delivers a superb performance as the Stage Manager, orchestrating the play within a play and breaking the fourth wall to directly address the audience. Norah Lopez Holden and Patrick Elue equally deliver wonderfully expressive performances as Emily and Georgie, the awkward yet likeable teenagers who fall in love and attempt to work out their future.

But what makes this production truly special is its themes of community and humanity, which is particularly fitting for a city still healing from the wounds of terror. The play is a reminder of how precious daily life is and its dramatic tensions arise from our growing awareness that Wilder’s characters repeatedly fail to appreciate these wonders – until it’s too late.

Despite its slow start, there is lots to like about this production of OUR TOWN, which has been uniquely redefined for the present day. A beautiful life affirming revival of a bona fide American classic.

4 out of 5 stars

OUR TOWN runs at the Royal Exchange until 14 October 2017.