A Modern Town is a very 21st century fable of Newton Bassett, a tourist hotspot which has fallen on hard times, and its efforts to draw in visitors; a sink or swim initiative which will pit small businesses against greedy corporate enterprises and divide families. I am making this all sound far more dramatic than it actually is; but A Modern Town is in essence a smart, cleverly woven tale of greed and business ambition in middle England.
Joe Webber has inherited his father’s store, and is feeling the pinch: no-one comes to his Newton Bassett store save the dwindling locals, things aren’t looking good. Then a team of grey suited investors arrive... The set was pleasingly detailed with an attractive store sign (which changes halfway through as part of the store’s revamp) and industrial aesthetic which suited the warehouse location. The blocks on the set floor were portable enough to be quickly shifted, allowing for speedy scene changes. The naturalistic acting was on the whole effective; a particular standout was Joe’s girlfriend Sally, who was sympathetically portrayed and more rounded than the other inhabitants of Newton Bassett, who were consistent, but you knew so little about them that they were more like cameos than characters.
The initially light and buoyant tone took a dark turn, as the impact of Joe’s Faustian pact with the out-of-town investors takes its toll on the economic and mental health of the other Newton Basset-ers. Their futuristic plans to turn it into ‘Britain’s first truly modern town’ felt suitably ominous, but the dystopian element felt oddly divorced from the underwhelming squabbles of the first two thirds of the play.
For a subtle, thoughtful take on the politics of business and the damaging effect of nationwide enterprises on the individuality of small towns, go see morality tale A Modern Town.