IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – A Live Radio Play
The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Friday 7th December, 2018
Frank Capra’s beloved film, starring Jimmy Stewart, is a Christmas favourite in my house. Here it is brought to the stage in this adaptation by Joe Landry, who re-sets it as a radio drama. We are in the studio of WBFR in Manhattan. WWII is over and we settle in to watch a cast of five perform the script using only their voices and a few odds and ends for sound effects.
Hosting the show is Anton Tweedale, who also appears as the villain Mr Potter (among other roles). He points out the APPLAUSE signs, which we must obey – as if we need prompting to show our appreciation of this slick and effective piece.
The actors address the microphones rather than each other, meaning they’re always facing front. Director Anthony Shrubsall prevents things from becoming static by giving them plenty of business. You could close your eyes and enjoy the piece as a radio show, but if you did, you’d miss out on the darting around, the creation of the sound effects; the moves are all choreographed to keep the story going.
Charles Lomas is an affable George Bailey, the big-hearted hero, whose life consists of sacrifice after sacrifice to help the people of his small-town home. Lomas makes the part his own, and brings great passion to the role. Hannah Fretwell is sweet as Mary, George’s wife, while Marisa Foley excels in a range of female roles, from the local goodtime girl to George’s mother and infant children. Rowland Stirling is superb as second-class angel Clarence and many other parts, demonstrating versatility and skill as he switches between characters, often conversing with himself.
You might think that with all the mechanics of the production in full sight, we would be kept at a distance from the story. There is some of that, and you can reflect, Brechtian-style, on the evils of capitalism, as embodied by the sneering Potter. But the story, even as it is presented here, still packs an emotional wallop. George Bailey is a kind of anti-Scrooge. It takes an other-worldly spirit to show him that the world would be worse off without him, rather than better.
Technically perfect, totally charming, and excellently presented by a talented ensemble, this is a wonderful It’s A Wonderful Life. Even this old grinch was moved to tears – or perhaps it was the complimentary gin and tonic I knocked back in the interval.
Heart-warming stuff indeed.