After reading “The Roses of Eyam” and “Our Town”, I found that both plays are set in close communities, although “Our Town” is a more modern setting than “The Roses of Eyam”. The communities in both plays are somewhat wary of anything outside their immediate environment. In “The Roses of Eyam”, the villagers distrust Mompesson and take a long while to accept him. It is not until he and Stanley join together to fight the plague that he begins to gain their trust. In “Our Town”, although the townspeople do not distrust strangers, they are dismissive of people they consider below them on the social scale. At the beginning of the play, when asked if someone was sick, Doc Gibbs replies: “No, just some twins born over in Polish Town.”
Both plays also cover the themes of birth, love affairs, marriage, family life and death. “The Roses of Eyam” does not actually depict a birth, although Catherine and Mompesson’s children are mentioned, so birth is implied. However, in “Our Town”, the play actually begins with the birth of the twins in Polish Town. Birth is a central issue in all our lives today as it was when these plays were written, and babies are referred to all the time. Soap operas regularly carry story lines featuring parents-to-be and babies. Many soap operas reflect life, albeit in a dramatised and condensed version.
Love affairs are depicted in both plays. In “The Roses of Eyam”, the love affair is between Emmot and Rowland and in “Our Town” between Emily and George. However, whilst in “The Roses of Eyam” the affair is doomed because of their forced separation due to the plague, in “Our Town” Emily and George’s love affair results in marriage. Like many modern couples, Emily and George experience last minute nerves and are unsure if they want to go through with the wedding. George, just before the ceremony says emotionally, “Ma, I don’t want to grow old. Why’s everybody pushing me so?” Emily too, has last minute nerves, saying, “I’ve never felt so alone in my whole life.
And George over there, looking so ……! I hate him. I wish I were dead. Papa! Papa!” In both cases, their parents exercise their authority and persuade Emily and George to continue with the wedding. This is very relevant today, when many young couples marry to conform to society and to please their families. It has now become clear, that before Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer, they both had doubts about the wedding, but were unable to go against what their families and the public expected of them.
Parents often continue to control their children, even when they become adults. In “The Roses of Eyam”, Mompesson and Stanley attempt to control the villagers, by persuading them to seal the village to prevent the spread of the plague. The Stage Manager in “Our Town” and to a lesser extent, the Bedlam in “The Roses of Eyam”, form a link between the audience and the actors. They control the action in the same way as some parents try to control their children.
Parents have always expected their children to help around the house, and performing chores and doing homework is common to both plays. It also forms a large part of children’s lives today. “From my window up there I can just see your head nights when you’re doing your homework over in your room.” George said to Emily.
Also, the Stage Manager in “Our Town” forms a link with the past and the Bedlam in “The Roses of Eyam” tells the audience what will happen in the future. In families nowadays, these functions often fall to the grandparents, who tell us about their youth and the part they played in the War. They also warn us about things that might happen in the future if we do not heed their warnings. In “The Roses of Eyam”, the Bedlam is constantly warning of future disasters.
The whole issue of family relationships is present in both plays and, in modern society. In “The Roses of Eyam”, the interaction between Unwin and Merril is very similar to many grandparents of today. They bicker about unimportant things, but underneath all the arguing they are very fond of each other. In “Our Town”, we see the children squabbling. When George’s sister, Rebecca, joins him at the window, he says, “Get out, Rebecca. There’s only room for one at this window. You’re always spoiling everything.” This could be a similar argument to those heard in any modern household!
The issue of death is central to both plays. In “The Roses of Eyam” it is dealt with in a straightforward way, as the plague slowly but surely removes victim after victim. We experience a sense of inevitability when we realise the first death is due to the plague. We know it is unlikely that many of the villagers will survive. In “Our Town” Emily’s death is dealt with in an almost surreal manner. The audience is transported into the spirit world, and we are given an insight into Emily’s transition from the living world to that of the dead. We are told of her reluctance to leave her husband and children, and are shown how the other spirits try to persuade her not to go back to her childhood. She is devasted when she re-visits a childhood birthday party, because she feels like an onlooker and is unable to change the course of events.
Many modern films deal with ghosts and the afterworld in a similar way. The film “Ghost” shows the central character trying to communicate with the living world to warn them of forthcoming disaster. In “The Roses of Eyam”, the Bedlam performs this function, he is constantly trying to warn the villagers about impending deaths, but they will not listen to him. In “Our Town”, Mrs Gibbs tries to stop Emily from going back to watch the living. She knows it will make her realise how carefree and happy she was when she was alive. So, in conclusion we can see that although these plays are set in the past, their themes have relevance to our lives today.