It's a Wonderful Life - Review

It is widely held that no Christmas would be complete without Frank Capra's film classic being given an airing and this adaptation for the stage was a wonderful way to get people into the festive spirit.

George Bailey, a simple man who has given his life to the service of his community, is driven to the point of suicide through the machinations of an unscrupulous local banker. Enter Clarence, a guardian angel, who demonstrates how important George's life has been and how it has impinged on the life of others. The play's message is that no one is poor if they have friends.

Set around the American depression of the thirties the play has a resonance with the present financial climate.

The complexity of the film regarding multiple locations and magical effects must present a challenge to any director in staging it. Director, Gerry McCrudden, uses the clever device of presenting it as a radio play. It is unknown to me whether this is an original idea of his or if he used a previously staged version. Whatever – the main thing is that it worked well. Not having seen the film I had no preconceptions that could be marred by this approach. My companions, who knew the film well, had no complaints.

The set was a re-creation of a radio studio of the thirties complete with an "On Air" sign, authentic looking microphone stands and sound effects ably provided by Jessica Faulks. Obviously a lot of thought had been given to ensuring that the set had a genuine period feel about it.

The cast were required to play the many different roles that the script required and it was fascinating to watch them switching between characters as they come up to the microphones. Again the acting styles reflected those of the period. These challenges provided a great opportunity for showing off acting skills and demonstrated ensemble playing at its best.

Carl Boardman, as George, captured well the simplicity of the man and his courting scenes with Mary, played with much charm by Jen Bridges, were both funny and touching. Boardman can normally be relied on to give a completely assured performance. However on the night I attended that assurance was occasionally missing when he fluffed his lines.

Amongst all the good performances mention should be made of the interplay between Janet Hewlett-Davies, as the Superintendant of Angels, and McCrudden who also took on the role of Clarence, the angel trying for his wings. The calm and wisdom of the Superintendant contrasted well with the naivety and enthusiasm of the rookie. Alistair Lock and Anna Bolwell were particularly adept at playing multiple roles. Lock at one time had to hold a conversation between two of his characters whilst Bolwell successfully managed to portray three children of differing ages.

This heart warming tale may have been told with simplicity but the production delivered a hugely entertaining evening that ended with cast singing and the packed audience joining in with "White Christmas".

Barrie Jerram