I arrived with my irony intact, but it had somehow melted away after a few minutes, leaving me wide eyed with belief, warm with laughter and goodwill, tearful at the hero’s despair and awash with relief and joy at the happy ending. I am not joking.
If you have been living in a cave since 1946 you probably don’t know that It’s A Wonderful Life is the story of George Bailey, the classic Little Man who has always given up his own dreams in order to help others. His life has become so desperate (due to the villain’s chicanery) that on Christmas Eve he decides to commit suicide, believing that he’s ‘worth more dead than alive.’ He wishes he had never been born. At these words, his Guardian Angel (2nd class ) appears and proceeds to show him what his life has meant to those around him and how his very existence has brought about good to people who without him would have been destroyed. These people gratefully rally round to support him in his difficulties. He has so many friends he is ‘the richest man in town.’ His life, far from being a failure, has been a triumph, indeed, a ‘wonderful life.’ Even the Guardian Angel is touched by George’s life: George decides to live and the Angel as a reward gets his wings.
It’s a fairy tale told with the innocence of a fairy tale; it has our hero, a villain (the traditional banker) and it also contains a basic truth about life that is part and parcel of a fairy tale, in this case, that what we do in our lives affects everyone around us, whether we know them or not. It is also about the importance of friends, who are our real riches whatever our bank balance. I can’t say I actually believe that but last Thursday evening at the Bridge House theatre, I did.
The production is not a copy of the film; it is a ’radio version’. In the 1940s, successful films were adapted and performed on radio which was a popular form of family entertainment.
Guy Retallack, the director, has used this device in his production: we are in a radio studio, complete with a red ‘On Air’ light, pauses for advertisements, wheezy harmonium music and hand held signs cueing ‘Applause’ This device works beautifully; the actors wear period costume but they are not the costumes of the play, they are wearing their own clothes while they read from their scripts for a radio play. Cynicism and irony fall away; we are like children being told a story, and it is easy to believe in it. It also makes it easy to follow the many shifts of character as actors move from one character to the next, sometimes within the space of one sentence. The acting is excellent all round; the actors have captured the style of the period and perform with the truth of that period, without adding any stylistic comment. Because we are distanced in this way, it oddly makes the story feel more truthful, like stepping through a spyglass into an earlier time where we are allowed to visit the lost charm of a period not that far from our own. The evening as a whole has the innocence and simplicity of a past era and within minutes, I, for one, had lost all my precious irony, loved everyone in the cast (except the baddie banker and I loved loathing him) and hoped that things would turn out all right.
At the end, I wiped my eyes, and went out into the cold, feeling warm and happy and Christmassy. All around me other members of the audience were also smiling at strangers and agreeing that they’d had a good time. The film is of course a Christmas ’must’ on television and I wouldn’t be surprised if the ‘radio version’ has a similar success in small theatres, it deserves it.
Review by Kate Beswick
It’s A Wonderful Life
Set in an IBC radio studio in the late1940s, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, Frank Capra’s cinematic classic, originally starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, is given a magical treatment in this unique period setting!
Be transported away to Bedford Falls as our actors play dozens of characters, produce the sound effects, and bring this beloved holiday treat to life before your very eyes, helping you to fall in love with this classic story ~ all over again.
A show guaranteed to put everyone in the spirit of the season whether you’re aged aged 10 or 210!
The show is the UK Premiere, and is directed by Guy Retallack whose other work at the Bridge House includes the highly successful Macbeth and last years sell out Christmas sensation A Christmas Carol.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Tuesday 9 December – Sunday 4 January
BRIDGE HOUSE THEATRE SE20
Bridge House Theatre
2 High Street Penge
London, SE20 8RZ
Saturday 13th December 2014