Stage Version Of It’s A Wonderful Life Will Warm Your Heart
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
The Bridge House Theatre’s highly energetic rendition of Frank Capra’s 1946 film It’s A Wonderful Life is as unrestrainedly authentic and heart-warming as one would hope. As a radio play, the show is coyly constructed to engage from the moment the audience walks in: warm red lighting, 1930s era background music and interactive opening banter replete with instructions for audience applause at designated ‘ON AIR’ times, all help set the mood and transport the audience back to pre-war Bedford Hills where the story begins.
To say the acting is superb is not hyperbole. The colossal talents of this six member cast, if not immediately apparent, become palpably evident as they metamorphosise into the inhabitants of an entire town, with each character more challenging, interesting and well-played than the one before.
Gerard McCarthy wows as a convincingly generous and lovable George Bailey whose dreams of seeing the world are at odds with the need to stay home and serve his community as head of the local Building and Loan. He reluctantly takes on this responsibility but a series of unfortunate events befall the company and the tale reaches its climax when George’s arch nemesis, the repulsive Mr. Potter, refuses him an emergency loan, which leaves George questioning whether he’d be better off dead.
Luckily, he’s given a second chance when Clarence, an angel one task short of earning his wings comes to visit on Christmas Eve. Kenneth Jay as Clarence is a joy to watch, transforming from a nerdy ‘angel second class’ to a brave, mission-oriented cherub enthusiastically serving his heavenly call of duty.
Sophie Scott as Mary gives a timeless performance, while Gillian Kirkpatrick delights as Clarence’s coquettish boss, an elderly male sheriff and Zuzu, George’s infant daughter. And while Daniel Hill as cold hearted Mr. Potter will send shivers down your spine, it’s really Danny Colligan who steals the audience’s heart as he takes on, among others, young George, an uneducated taxi driver and Mary’s suitor Sam.
Keeping with the radio play conceit, deliberate choices in lighting, props and sound effects add dimension to the minimal set while off-stage voices, long distance gazes and loud, full-on action scenes amplify the illusion of the small-town setting.
It’s an extremely emotional tale of a righteous man putting his dreams on hold to help others, which may sound melodramatic, but it’s deftly directed by Guy Retallack and never seems over-cooked. There’s also hilarious light relief with several radio advertising ‘interludes’ that punctuate the seriousness.
In short, the trip to Penge is well worth it as this sensationally executed Christmas tale delivers its truly wonderful message about the importance of friendship.
By Sophia S.
It's A Wonderful Life runs at the Bridge House Theatre, 2 High Street, Penge, until Sunday 4 January 2015. Tickets £12.50-£16.50 + booking fee. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 13 December 2014