Black Swan State Theatre Company presents “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder at the State Theatre Centre Courtyard as part of Perth Festival. Director Clare Watson (Black Swan’s Artistic Director), says that “Our Town” is one of her favourite plays, which is apparent throughout as there is genuine warmth, sincerity and a strong sense of community that uplifts this excellent production. Opening night is a balmy evening, with the occasional cool breeze, and the headphones that the audience wears during the performance drown out the hustle and bustle of the streets of Northbridge; bringing a welcome serenity to emulate the small town feel required for the play’s setting.
Three actors: Abbie-Lee Lewis, Ian Michael, and Shari Sebbens are joined by ninety community members (staggered across performances) who make up the citizens of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, the fictional, small American town where the play is set. Though there isn’t an American accent to be heard through the headphones. Instead, Watson has relinquished the obvious to take the production to another level of understanding and perspective that concentrates fully on the communication between performer and audience. Though Wilder’s play is a strong and compelling work, it is Watson’s intelligent casting and direction that subliminally challenges our personal reactions, our sense of community, and the choices we make in our everyday lives.
From the beginning of the play the audience is reminded that they are watching a play. The character called ‘Stage Manager’ greets the audience and appears several times to impart information and even interact with other characters. The actor Ian Michael who plays ‘Stage Manager’ also doubles as ‘George’, the small town boy who later marries ‘Emily’ (played by Abbie-Lee Lewis). Both Michael and Lewis portray the innocence and sincerity of their roles. Moreover, Michael meets the challenges of the doubling and exudes calmness and confidence throughout as ‘Stage Manager’. Likewise, Shari Sebbens’ outstanding performance as Mrs Gibbs, portrays the ‘salt of the earth’ matriarch whose daily preoccupations convey a stability and simplicity that is the backbone of a good society.
Wilder’s “Our Town” was first presented in 1938 yet the play resonates in 2019. Watson has named the three act structure to emphasise the play’s progression and conclusion: Act I – Daily Life; Act II – Love and Marriage; Act III – The Cycle of Life. At first, the audience is lulled into the daily comings and goings of the town’s inhabitants, then uplifted by the excitement of an impending wedding; only to be floored by the denouement which explains why the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature.
Tyler Hill’s minimal set and costume designs beautifully capture the simplicity of the play, while Chloe Ogilvie’s lighting design is functional and effective. Equally, sound design and compositions by Russell Goldsmith strike the right balance in assisting to depict the atmosphere of the play.
Black Swan State Theatre Company’s production of “Our Town” works on multiple levels and is the perfect start to their 2019 programme. Recruiting real community members to be part of the show is also a stroke of genius from the Director/Artistic Director. It gives the production an authenticity, a feeling of fun and a sense that we all belong in our town.
Playing until the 23 February 2019 at the State Theatre Centre Courtyard, Perth Cultural Centre, Northbridge. Bookings at https://www.bsstc.com.au/plays/our-town