The production of Our Town at The Royal Exchange Theatre isn't traditionally cast which is really interesting. The original setting was small-town America but this production explores British community.
ALRA: Can you tell us more about this decision?
Luke Matthews: There’s a part in the play where ‘The Stage Manager’ lists what is going to be put into the corner stone of the new bank that’s being built in the town, a time capsule for people a thousand years from now to excavate.
He suggests putting a copy of this play ‘Our Town’ in, so they would know something of everyday life and the milestones of life that aren’t usually highlighted in history but are generally repeated by everyone in most cultures throughout all history and the whole world, things such as becoming an adult, falling in love, loss and death, things that happen today all around the world 80 years after the play was written and will continue to happen for ever.
The play is very American and nostalgic but it’s universal themes transcend time and geography, it’s quite amazing how much it suits British Community and a diverse British cast using British accents.
ALRA: How are you finding the design as a performer - with the audience sitting so close?
LM: Initially I thought it would be very challenging, having to interact and be amongst the audience before the show opens but it’s been quite calming and inspiring to chat to the people about to share the afternoon or evening with us.
The audience aren’t aware of us being performers so we just chat as anyone would who sits next to someone at the theatre. I don’t know if it would be as successful in London as it has been here in Manchester as people up north tend to be a bit friendlier and up for a chat with anyone at any time, but I would say that cause I’m from the north.
ALRA: Tell us a little about the character you play.
LM: I play a character called Sam Craig who left town a while back and returns on hearing the news of his cousin-in-laws death but hadn’t returned for other significant events. He had to leave and deny the community and his family for necessary personal needs which shows strength but also selfishness.
ALRA: The play looks at the lives of ordinary people and the magic of the everyday. What have you thought about in your preparation for your role?
LM: I’ve looked at the community I am part of now and whilst growing up as well as communities I’m not familiar with and the community life explored in the play and of America at the turn of the 20th century.
A member of our company Nadia is Deaf, she plays the part of Mrs Soames a character that wasn’t written as being deaf by Wilder but her dialogue is signed in our production, her friends in the play speak as well as sign with her and we explored the idea of the wider community in the town being able to sign to some degree.
This echo’s the community of Martha’s Vineyard, a town in America near to Boston which had many inhabitants that were deaf, but where the whole community used sign language to communicate and didn’t make the distinction between hearing and deaf people.
ALRA: What parts of your training are you most drawing from for this production?
LM: The voice training at ALRA and the exposure we had of different performance spaces and staging especially throughout our third year productions prepared me for the Royal Exchanges space which is the largest theatre in the round in the UK, I was glad to already have that under my belt from two of the productions in my final year.
ALRA: As an actor who has only recently graduated, what piece of advice would you offer to the next cohort of ALRA graduates?
LM: Have fun and enjoy every moment whilst your training lasts, third year has many ups and downs but if you aren’t from London or the south like me, your year group become your London family. It’s important to be kind and support one another; they may be all you have down there when you graduate.
ALRA: We hope you enjoy the rest of the run. What's next for you?
LM: I am actually moving straight back to London after the show closes mostly because I miss my London family so much. I don’t have anything lined up as of yet but I’m looking forward to what graduate life brings and whatever comes next.
ALRA: Thank you so much Luke for sharing your story, we wish you all the best for your shows and future career and look forward to seeing what’s next!