Writer: Gary Duggan
Director: Shaun Elebert
Presenting their performance of Gary Duggan’s ‘It’s A Wonderful Bleedin’ Life’ tonight at Smock Alley’s Boys’ School, Judder Theatre showcase a modern Irish stage version of Frank Capra’s famous movie. The much loved black and white film starring James Stewart was adapted from Philip Van Doren Stern’s 1943 short story, ‘The Greatest Gift’, itself loosely based on Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. And so this enduring tale has been long in the telling.
To the soulful strains of Calvin N. Emery’s ‘Bells will be ringing’ the lights come up on one of the most meticulously assembled and constructed sets (James Donnelly / Oisín McMahon / Philip Russell) I’ve come across. It’s “almost midnight” on Christmas Eve and still in his suit from work, Georgie Travers is “getting the last one in”. He is joined in the pub at the top of the hill by a friendly, if slightly dishevelled and garrulous, stranger called Lawrence.
The enigmatic latecomer is inquisitive and intent on drawing out a morose and brooding Georgie. His determined prodding (“Are you auditioning for the Samaritans or something?”) leads to the reveal that as a result of the credit crunch, “the arse fell out of everything” and Georgie is “in debt up to my eyes”. He eventually confesses that “up on the hill there, I’m thinking there’s a cliff walk” with Lawrence concluding – ”step off…the wind…the rocks…the sea..”
This is a heart-rending but extremely worthwhile play. Its polished and professional production is a testament to the entire cast and crew. Duggan’s writing is excellent and clever techniques are employed to progress the plot such as in the use of Georgie’s mobile phone. Although there are moments of levity involving the Dalai Lama and Lawrence’s dubious smoking habit, the show might benefit from a little more humour even if only of the ‘gallows’ variety.
Stephen Kelly and Vincent Patrick are skillful in their roles of Georgie and Lawrence respectively. Kelly resonates as a man tested to his limits, convinced he is nothing but a failure and a disappointment to his family and friends. Patrick is energetic and endearing as the hopelessly wayward but earnest, would-be Angel. Lawrence is “the patron saint of Christmas Eve platitudes”. His ascent at the end is hilarious and a marvellous piece of direction by Shaun Elebert.
The impact and consequences of recession on a persons’ mental health can be catastrophic. During the last economic depression in Ireland our suicide rate rose by 15 per cent. The majority of victims were men. Sadly, we will all have known, or at the very least heard of, someone who tragically took their own life during or outside of those terrible years. Notably, Georgie Travers admits that “If you’re on the slide, Christmas just drives it home”.
Tonight, in Dublin’s enchanting “newest, oldest theatre” we are reminded that it’s not what we achieve for ourselves that’s significant but what we do for others. If you have “asked a question and listened”, “given someone a cup of tea or had a smile for a stranger”, if a kindness from you “made a difference whether you knew it or not”, and if you have loved another selflessly, then “this world is a better place with you in it”.
As Frank Sinatra croons at the close of ‘It’s A Wonderful Bleedin’ Life’, “have yourself a merry little Christmas”.
Runs Until 23 December 2023.