What would you prefer on your High Street, stylish boutiques and organic cake bakeries or charity and pound shops? This is the choice facing the good people of Newton Basset, a town of faded seaside grandeur from which the tourists stay away in droves.
The town seems past its sell by date, with an anachronistic adherence to wassailing, folk music and male chauvinism, but there is hope that it could be pulled into the modern world when some apparently friendly investors come calling.
Key to this bright future is the struggling local store which forms the hub of the community, recently inherited by young Joe Webber. Joe is not only a quick convert but is soon high-fiving the corporate suits and evangelising on their behalf – if everyone got loans and updated then surely the tourists would return?
Needs must when the devil (and market forces) drives. The investors have bigger, bolder ambitions and soon Joe is being forced into making decisions that could have huge repercussions for the town and everyone in it.
This is intelligent and timely theatre. The idea of a whole town under the collective monopoly of, say, a supermarket chain is not an imaginary dystopia but very real. Such "supermarket-led mixed-use development proposals" are just around the corner. In the face of this the production somewhat pulls its punches. While having Joe as the aspiring hero allows a moral dilemma, it robs us of a baddy and it might be stronger as an invective against the real culprit, the political policy of “planning gain”.
The play is at its most powerful when it gets close up and personal in showing the impact on the local farmer, but in other parts the epic form is distancing. This mix also extends to the development of the characters and the standard of acting.
"This town has been sold … we've lost our individuality, our identity – the very things that make this place”. No, not a line from the script but a real life quote.
It may not be agitprop but this production does well to be both entertaining and questioning.
Show Times: Runs to 27 August 2012; 4.00pm.
Ticket Prices: £9 (£7) – 20-23, 27. £10 (£8) – other dates.