What the critics said:
The birthday show was a fine treat
It was happy 40th birthday for Doris Fitton and her Independent Theatre on Saturday night and her producion of Thornton Wilder's Our Town was a fine birthday treat.
Over those years the Independent has presented more than 400 plays - an amazing record for a "little" theatre.
Our Town was the theatre's first hit when it premiered the play here in 1940 soon after the company had moved to its North Sydney site, hence the revival.
Our Town was something of an innovation then - few props, a lot of mime, and period costumes of the turn of the century for those who felt they had to have some clue to what was going on.
All this could be slightly comical now - but it wasn't.
In Grovers Corners, the tiny American town setting of the play, nothing much happens. The early train to Boston roars past on time, the milk boy does his usual rounds and swaps gossip, the aged policeman chats on his no-incident rounds (burglary was just a fairy tale then). The people live. love and die.
We have different problems now, protest demonstrations, free love, the lot.
But for most people, its the same basic drama - birth, living, loving, marrying and dying.
And along these simple lines, Wilders Our Town is a great and beautiful play.
Simplicity, on stage, can be treachorous.
Over-acting must be smothered at all points. And with a birthday occasion, and all the speeches and so on, it could have been as dull as a school prize night.
Robert Levis, pipe-smoking, sweatered. perfectly casual and folksy, did a great job as the Stage Manager, taking over at short notice from James Condon, who was injured. He was supposed to be producing a play but was in fact a commentator, adding odd facts, anecdotes and statistics to present Grovers Corners as a microcosm of the history of man.
So there it is. Our Town is the story of Everyman. And the Independent must be congratulated on rediscovering the haunting heart of the play
The cast was strong and among the seniorish parts there was particularly good work from Betty Dyson, Hilary Blight, John Armstrong and Bill Farley.
One notes too the excellent playing of Gregory Ross and Linda Horne as the young lovers.
Gregory Ross came to notice in the recent One Day of the Year production at this theatre. Linda Horne, still a student there, was playing her first major role. If they get the breaks, here are two young stars in the making.
AT THE THEATRE with ROBIN INGRAM
Cynical as ever
CYNICAL ole Thornton Wilder would have us believe that birthdays are merely milestones along the road to the grave.
But the Independent Theatre-healthier than ever at 40 years of age - has nothing to be cynical about. And to celebrate their four decades of contribution to Sydney's culture scene, they're staging Wilder's classic, "Our Town."
This production is also a tribute to its director Doris Fitton, founder of The Independent and producer of the Australian premiere of "Our Town" 30 years ago.
Consider the possibilities. The speeches, the presentations and a nostalgic production of an old play about small town America at the turn of the century.
But today's superficial sophistician adds to the impact of Wilder's message and this company shows the class that has made The Independent such an institution.
"Our Town" is a stroll down a memory lane tacky with American sentimentality. The audience is sucked in by its cozy warmth and their own Peyton Place curiosity for small-town gossip.
But as the story unfolds, Wilder's cynicism for the futility of life -the fact that no one gets out of it alive - is branded deeper and deeper into the audience's consciousness.
The huge cast of 30 responds well to the authority of Miss Fitton's production and Robert Levis' stand-in stage management.
Linda Horne playing her first lead role, shows a ton of potential in her handling of the difficult role of Emily
Opposite her, Gregory Ross makes a good impression as George Gibbs and their respective parents played by John Armstrong, Betty Dyson, Hilary Bligh and Bill Farley all add to their reputations.
In short, "Our Town" proves itself as ageless as its inhabitants.
Forty years of continuous playing is a record few, if any, present day theatres in this country can match.
IT is the proud claim of the Independent Theatre, which attains its 40th birthday on Saturday, May 30, that in all that time, come war, storm, Depression or financial crisis. it has never gone "dark."
Founded on May 30, 1930 it played in the city until in 1939 it took a lease of its present North Sydney home which in 1945 it bought with public support.
Its formidable list of productions of some of the world's finest plays includes more than 60 by Australian writers, while many of its actors, producers. directors, writers, designers and technicians have become distinguished names in the theatre world.
The Independent is marking the occasion with a gala opening of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, produced by the theatre's director, Doris Fitton.
James Condon will play the stage manager, with a cast that includes John Armstrong, Betty Dyson, Bill Farley, Hilary Bligh, Gregory Ross, Linda Horne, John Bush, Barbara McMillan and Christopher Brown.
THE Independent Theatre, Sydney, has chosen a season of Thornton Wilder's Our Town to celebrate its 40th birthday.
It is something of a sentimental journey in that the play was first directed by Doris Fitton in February 1940 only a few months after the group took over its present Nortli Sydney theatre; and it was this play which restored its popularity after the crucial decision to desert the audience in its temporary city premIses.
But there is something a little bitter about a revival of this too-sweet play about the passing of time and the loss of opportunity for it to be exactly celebratory.
And the shadow is cast by a review from the New Yorker of a recent revival off Broadway which is quoted in the Independent's programme.
It begins by saying the play shows scarcely any signs of age and ends: "Life in Our Town has the bitter sweetness of a failed opportunity; death in Our Town is a, nightmare of passive awareness felt through all eternity. Mr Wilder's style is so cordial, so determinedly charming, that we tend to nod and smile and not listen to what he is telling us, Perhaps this is why so many audiences respond to Our Town as if it were a sentimental valentine.
"For all his compulsive winsomeness, Mr Wilder is a pessimist as cold and tough as they come, and it must amuse him that millions of people have been made to feel all warm and cosy by his words."
There was a good deal of nodding and smiling in the Independent's audience on Wednesday, partly in goodwill to the theatre and partly in sentimental surrender to the compulsive winsomeness of Linda Horne and Gregory Ross as George Gibbs.
And there was much cosiness in Robert Levis's performance as the stage manager commentator, which only occasionally allowed to struggle through the cynicism behind the corn-sweet words about the relentless round of birth, coupling and death.
But one can hear in his words the answer to Willy Loman before ever Miller asked us to pay attention to the little man: What is so virtuous about living and dying and baking hominy bread and closing one's mind to the world outside for fear that it might disturb? It ends with Emily finding, when she returns from the dead to revisit the morning of her 12th birthday, that the minds of those she has loved have been closed all along and will go on being so until they die.
The more one thinks of it, the more ruthless a confidence trick it is against all that is held sacred in the American Dream.
Our Town shows us the life of two families in a small New Hampshire community over 10 years at the turn of the century, and more particularly of a boy and girl who grow up and marry. And they are presented with all the care taken over an expurgated version of The Scarlet Letter, to reassure us that the quality of life is the work of mother nature and what man can contribute is only destructive.
But the more George and Emily fall inarticulately in love, the more aware one becomes of how ignorance has been equated to innocence.
Their world is doomed, and they are not the elect who will enter the ark and be saved.
The time is ripe for Wilder's message that we should take our heads out of their bags and have a good look around. If you look carefully through the Independent's sunny production, you will see that the play is not dated - the obsolescence of those reassurances was built in from the start.