A terrorized British city turns to an all-American play for healing

By  Matt Trueman, reporter, The New York Times

In the wake of the May terrorist attack at Manchester Arena, which killed 23 people, including the attacker, the space outside the nearby Royal Exchange Theater became a site of public mourning. St. Ann’s Square slowly filled with flowers and other tributes – soft toys, football jerseys, balloons — covering an area the size of a swimming pool. Every day for three weeks, the theater’s staff walked past on their way to work.

At the time, the artistic director Sarah Frankcom was facing a gap in her autumn schedule, the result of a leading actor’s clashing commitments. One play kept coming to mind: Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” An all-American classic, Wilder’s 1938 portrait of small-town life at the turn of the century nonetheless seemed to Ms. Frankcom to chime with the atmosphere in Manchester at that moment.

“All over town, there was a real sense that people were meeting each other in simple, everyday actions,” she recalled. The scene in St. Ann’s Square was a case in point. “We suddenly all went, ‘Oh, that’s why we have town squares, isn’t it?’ It wasn’t about looking at flowers, but about needing to be together.”

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