Edward Albee called this play by Thornton Wilder “the finest play ever written by an American,” and I can see why. Apparently performed somewhere in the USA every day since it was written in 1938, it portrays the family life of a straightforward god-fearing small New England town. What lifts it from being as boring as that sounds is its groundbreaking construction. To paraphrase Steve Coogan’s description of Tristram Shandy, this is post-modern theatre before there was much modern to be post. The central character is the stage manager, extremely well played by Simon Dobson, who starts by telling us that we are watching a play in three acts and describes the scene: there is no scenery. At one point he holds up a copy of the play and explains that he is putting it in a time capsule to show how ordinary Americans lived in the years from 1901 to 1913.
The first act includes a birth, the second is based around a wedding and the final act shows a burial, as seen by the other inhabitants of the graveyard. It makes a very interesting contrast with Strange Interludelast week. Both were experimental plays describing generations of American life:- the Eugene O’Neill featured nine actors on a stage larger than the King’s Head theatre; this had 14 actors. The American accents of the National Theatre actors were perfect; this had actors from five continents directed by an American, Tim Sullivan, who wisely made no attempt to change their accents. With the limited resources of such a small theatre, one or two of the less important parts were poorly acted but this did not detract from the excellent overall effect. Anyone interested in theatre must see this production.