Friday, 14 December 2018

Capra play works wonderfully

THERE’S a craze at the moment for turning books into films into plays, or plays into

THERE’S a craze at the moment for turning books into films into plays, or plays into films into books, or films into plays into books. But turning a film into a radio play onstage â?? isn’t that a convolution too far?

Gimmicky, even â?? except that, weirdly, it works â?? and with a work like Frank Capra’s timeless morality film It’s a Wonderful Life that’s quite a feat.

Or maybe it’s because the film is so well known it’s ingrained into the consciousness and memory; maybe the dialogue conjures up images from the film â?? it certainly did with me.

Or maybe it’s because it’s a really good story. If you don’t know it, don’t worry, nothing is ruined by hearing it.

Good guy George Bailey is at his wits’ end and about to kill himself when he is stopped by a trainee angel. It takes an hour to get to that point, but the angel shows George what a great guy he is and how lucky he is to be alive.

Doesn’t seem much when you put it like that, but it is so much more and it seems that no matter what the medium the message comes through.

We see George’s life develop against his plans and ambitions â?? stuck in a small town, running a family building society and fending off the evil capitalist Mr Potter. It’s a Wonderful Life is one of the cleverest films ever made: it is a simple love story, a David and Goliath tale and hidden within its decorous folds is a 90-minute religious sermon. Not a Christmas goes by without it being shown.

So how does it fare on the stage ... and radio? The radio idea is an interesting affectation and adds a little something through being placed in the period of the film. It’s presented as an American radio drama with adverts to add to the fun.

But while this is jolly, and we see the cast holding scripts as if in a radio theatre whilst paying lip service to two microphones, it could be taken out and the story would remain.

The cast, working as an ensemble, start scenes at the mics but leave them pretty soon after and become proper stage actors.

And they are strong as a unit, swapping parts and giving us the range we’ve come to expect from Jimmy Stewart and his colleagues. It’s well-directed, acted and staged.

Oliver Stoney as George Bailey doesn’t look like Stewart, but we are in no doubt about his dedication, loyalty and frustration.

It’s that which drives the story and leads us to the exciting idea towards the end of seeing a world in which he had never existed.

The moral is that everyone is connected and changes the lives of everyone else in some way. “Heaven is all upon the Earth but men don’t see it,” says the trainee angel, Clarence.

Someone, somewhere might put that into their service this Friday, Saturday or Sunday. The rest of us might want to ponder it as well.

Until Saturday.

Review: Mike Rowbottom

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