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Review: Our Town at Black Swan Theatre

By Annabelle Rosewarne

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Our Town by Thornton Wilder is a bittersweet slice-of-life play.

Set in the allegorical world of Grover’s Corners, the play observes the ins and outs of small-town life, following the daily activities of two families, the Gibbs’ and the Webb’s. Through the seemingly mundanities of every day existence, we are invited to observe the transience of our time on earth, and leave the theatre appreciating the little things in life.

Black Swan State Theatre presents this classic play with a bit of a twist. In this production, the town we see before us truly becomes ours. Although traditionally set in the early 20th century in America, the actors don’t don period garments, nor adopt accents. Director Clare Watson, rather, has chosen to reflect contemporary Perth life.

This bold choice by Watson sees only three professional actors in the show. The core cast of Abbie-lee Lewis, Ian Michael and Shari Sebbens are joined this season by 90 community members of Perth, who make up the citizens of Grover’s Corners. We see real doctors play doctors, teachers as teachers, priests being priests, and so on. Even the iconic milkman role, who rides through the town daily on his horse, is updated to an UberEATS driver, cycling in on his bicycle.

After a bit of a chuckle, the novelty of having real community members up on stage quickly wears off. In its intention to be a relatable and modern reflection of Perth today, the quality of the acting was heavily sacrificed. Whilst I can appreciate the sentimental intent to broaden audiences and celebrate artistry, as a piece of theatre it became hard to watch. Lines were fumbled over, actors were cut off, details became generic, and what usually would be touching scenes became pantomimic. For me, it was an interesting attempt at something new, although it unfortunately came at the cost of the story telling.

Another unique choice in this production was the use of headphones. Upon entering the State Theatre Centre Courtyard, audiences are asked to wear headphones, listening as if to a podcast, whilst watching the action take place live in front of us. This use of multimedia allowed for ambient sounds to be played in our ears, backdropping scenes with different moods. Again, although an interesting idea, I found it to be quite distracting, hindering my engagement in the story rather than enhancing it.

Part of the beauty of theatre is that it brings people together, much like the community in Our Town, as the audience shares an experience in watching a story that is born live, moment to moment. Ironically, I found the headphones isolating and alienating. In a beautiful outdoor courtyard space, underneath the stars, it seemed like a missed opportunity, blocking off the real atmosphere of the Perth night that was already there.

Despite some of my hesitations, there was something charming about this production. It is clear that Our Town represents all towns. In watching this fictional neighbourhood before us, we are invited to take a step back and observe our own communities, urging us to take joy in the little things in life.

Photo Credit: Daniel J Grant

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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