REVIEW: The Castle Players perform Our Town at the Georgian Theatre Royal

Florence Backes as Emily Webb, with members of the Castle Players choir.

Our Town is about birth, marriage, death and everything in between. Not much to go on then.

The play, by American Thornton Wilder, was garlanded on its release in 1938 in New Jersey and when it reached Broadway later that year it had the plaudits in raptures, so much so that the writer won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Drama for this work.

It was therefore an ambitious project for the Barnard Castle-based Castle Players at Richmond’s Georgian Theatre Royal, so it is a delight to say they pulled it off, with something approaching panache.

The stage direction by Gordon Duffy-McGhie, who also played the Stage Manager, was excellent and the acting very solid. The star-crossed lovers Emily Webb (Florence Backes) and George Gibbs (Sam Phillipson) were particularly strong as both gave performances to be proud of.

The play explores everyday existence in the small New Hampshire town of Grover’s Corners between 1901 and 1913 through the lives of the ordinary citizens. It is, at heart, a morality play, but it is very different to the norm in that it is a play within a play. The Stage Manager is the central character who directs questions to the audience, invites guest lecturers to give brief talks and even fills in other roles. No wonder it caused a stir nearly a century ago as this was fairly radical stuff.

The first act of three centres around an introduction to the leading parts and ends with a clear suggestion that George Gibbs and Emily Webb are made for each other.

Church choir director Simon Stimson (Ian Kirkbride) is gossiped about as the town’s resident alcoholic, while the local policeman (Stephen Brenkley) shrugs his shoulders and chooses to “look the other way” like the majority of townsfolk.

Part two centres around George and Emily, who get married, with the former choosing to take over his uncle’s farm, leaving his dreams of life as a baseball star behind.

The final part of ‘Our Town’ is tinged with regret and sadness as Emily, who died giving birth, supernaturally returns to Grover’s Corners for one day, her 12th birthday. Here she is left downcast by how little pleasure the townspeople enjoy in the simpleness of life. With that, Emily returns to her grave, where George can be seen weeping over her tomb.

Wilder is using Emily to convey the message that every moment in life should be treasured and it is an uplifting sentiment. Life is no rehearsal.

Stage management was by Anne Platten and the show was greeted with heartfelt applause at its finale. Some scenes will linger in the memory as this deep inspection of life and its meaning continues to resonate.