Director: Guy Retallack
Reviewer: Jo Payne
As Christmas nears and the cold sets in, this production provides a cosy getaway from the busyness of life, bringing with it important messages through a poignant story. Advertised as a radio play, the structure is a surprise until the cast arrives on stage and welcome you, the studio audience, to the live performance of an official airing of It’s A Wonderful Life on the radio. You are prepped and rehearsed prior to the show going on air to the masses.
It quickly becomes evident that the cast of six actors and actresses recreates between them as many rôles as possible from the famous movie. Sound effects are expertly produced and timed live on stage, including a wheelchair, telephone and appropriate transition backing tracks. Cues are smooth and seamless; a great achievement, given that sometimes three actors must react at the same time in different parts of the stage.
George Bailey (Oliver Stoney) is about to end his life. His guardian angel, Clarence (Richard Albrecht) has no idea why and neither do those watching. As the story unfolds, Bailey’s luckless past builds into his present and finally he sees hope for a delightful future. The director, Guy Retallack, expresses the importance of Stoney’s height and its contribution to the production. Being a mock recording and, in essence, a play within a play, this greatly helps the audience track the protagonist and recognise him in various situations and timeframes, and amid more than 30 other characters.
Being a radio play, it is easy to imagine the greatest impact being from the sound. However, the performers use physical and facial movements to ensure those watching gain a complete experience. David Benson skilfully portrays the nastiness and greed as Potter, while Lynsey Beauchamp keeps the audience on their toes as she switches from the heavenly Superintendent to young Janie playing an almost recognisable Christmas tune on the piano. Subtle but effective lighting enableS the cast to use different heights and widths of the stage to mimic an outside location on the replica sound set.
This story is presented in three acts. After each act, there is a short interlude during which appropriate radio advertisements are given for well-established products. Some of which, however, are laughably less appropriate now, over 60 years after the original story.
Ending with a tuneful rendition of Auld Lang Syne reminds the audience that, as well as being an entertaining story with laughter and love, there is an important message they must take with them into the New Year and beyond. This heart-warming production of a classic, seasonal story will leave you full of life and grateful for family as the recording concludes.
Runs until 26 November 2015 ¦ Image: Worthing Theatres