It’s a Wonderful Life
view this show because I came to it completely fresh. Although Frank Capra’s 1946 film, on which Tony Palermo’s play is based, is well known and dearly loved especially in America, it had completely passed me by. So I had no idea what to expect.
Ten people are putting on a live radio play so the format is a play-within-a-play. Thus we see them emerging from chairs in shadow to stand at downstage mics to deliver their lines. And the story their play tells is that of George Bailey, a businessman in trouble and contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve. An angel is sent – think of the ghosts in A Christmas Carol – from heaven to show him how impoverished and different the world would have been if he’d never existed.
Various things impressed me about this adeptly directed (Pauline Armour) production. First, the storytelling which could get very blurred and confusing is crystal clear. Second, the “radio studio” sound effects which we see created upstage by Jessica-Ann Jenner are impeccably synced with the action. Third, there’s a lot of doubling which relies on the sort of vocal versatility that radio requires and these talented actors have nailed it while also maintaining convincing American accents – although because it’s really a stage play that the audience is watching they also don a few hats, scarves and spectacles. Fourth, music is neatly dovetailed in to mark scene changes as befits a radio play. Fifth, it eventually packs in a bit of feel-good for Christmas which is much needed at present.
Howie Ripley as George finds a whole range of moods for him ending with anguished despair and, finally, joy at emerging from the vision and appreciating the life he has despite its difficulties. It’s a nuanced performance. And Bethan Boxall as his wife Mary (among other roles) – who puts me in mind of Michelle Dockery – seems, usefully, to have several octaves in her speaking voice. I liked the growth of her character from carefree teenager to worried middle-aged mother of five.
Also outstanding, in a strong cast, is Maxine Edwards as Mr. Henry Potter, a sort of Shylock figure, successful in business waiting to snatch anything he can from George. Edwards is totally convincing as she switches from that to the assertive sheriff or young George along with a whole raft of other parts. Kerrin Roberts gives us a nice, camp Clarence – the angel trying to earn his wings by sorting out George.
Arriving without any expectations or preconceived ideas I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy a pretty engaging evening in the theatre. This was actually my first visit to Bromley Little Theatre although it’s usefully local to me. I’ve had it on my list for a while but have been thwarted by pandemics and things. I think I shall probably be a regular in future.
First published by Sardines: https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/its-a-wonderful-life/