IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
Village Hall, Shrewley, Friday 23rd January, 2015
Farnham Maltings theatre company is touring this adaptation of the Jimmy Stewart seasonal classic around village halls in places where other theatre companies rarely go. The object is to provide an opportunity for communities to come together and share an experience. The material is ideally suited for that, with its message of community and fellowship.
Be that as it may, it is the presence of one actor in particular that gets me braving the wilds of Warwickshire: Richard Ede who had knocked my socks off in The 39 Steps plays the Stewart role. His George Bailey is no less compelling; Ede marries the credibility of Jimmy Stewart with the energy of Jim Carrey, in a magnetic performance that wins us over instantly and has us rooting for big-hearted, decent everyman George from the start. Ede makes the part his own but, just as George learns he is not alone, Ede has the support of a trio of other actors who populate the small town of Bedford Falls in a display of versatility and skill. You forget there are only three of them. By changing hats and coats but mainly through voice and carriage, a townful of characters springs to life. Natalia Campbell plays all the female roles as well as George’s guardian angel, while David Matthews and Mick Strobel represent George’s friends, neighbours and adversaries. They are flawless.
The action moves from set to set and through the audience – we are honorary Bedford Fallsians all –and is at turns funny, dramatic and touching. Director Gavin Stride makes the sometimes hokey Americana palatable, and the staging is so well-focussed in this alternative performance space, we are absorbed by and into the narrative. I am even moved to wipe my eyes a couple of times.
Yes, it’s a sentimental fable but it’s effective without being manipulative. Mary Elliott Newton’s faithful adaptation allows us to revisit the familiar material. The story raises the question that’s worth considering: what would the world be like if I had never been born? Think about it: you’ll either feel grateful or perhaps insignificant, as the case may be!
But this time I was struck by the relevance of the message. There is an alternative to the economic system we struggle under today. We should be following the Bailey Bros model rather than the one-man corporation-type profiteering of the piece’s villain, the heartless Mr Potter. Money should be made to work for the common good and not for the super-enrichment of the very few.
Cockle-warming and life-affirming.