Unmasked Theatre are filling the week before Christmas with a stage adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life, the 1946 festive favourite. The classic comedy-drama tells the story of George Bailey, a kind-hearted dreamer who finds himself wondering if life would be better without him in it. With all of his life’s ambitions cast aside to keep his father’s Building and Loans company afloat, and bankruptcy threatening to swallow up the town he dreamed of leaving, we see the events leading up to George contemplating suicide on a bridge on Christmas Eve. This is also when George’s guardian angel, Clarence Oddbody, steps in to help him see sense and show him a darker world in which none of his good deeds took place.
It’s an ambitious undertaking, fitting an entire town’s worth of characters onto the pint-sized Rialto stage
With some reshuffling of events, Unmasked Theatre brought a near-replica of the film to the stage. It’s an ambitious undertaking, fitting an entire town’s worth of characters onto the pint-sized Rialto stage. However, the most was made of the space, with scenes spilling into the audience to a nice, immersive effect, and hearing the chatter of the ensemble cast made some scenes really come alive. The production got off to a slightly disjointed beginning, and overall, it could have benefitted from some trimming or streamlining in places. However, the performances were strong throughout from the cast of 13, who were skilfully tackling a huge number of characters between them.
Liam Murray Scott put in a very strong performance as George Bailey, shining particularly in his impassioned speeches to the town. Also worthy of note was Elizabeth McNally, who played an extremely cool, cunning Mrs. Potter; her superiority and lack of empathy for the town’s residents was chilling. In contrast, Tyrone Purling brought a charming eccentricity to his portrayal of Clarence Oddbody, the guardian angel intent on helping George and earning his wings in the process. Although he had scenes dotted throughout the narrative, by the end of the performance you were left wishing you’d seen more of him through the show, as his interactions with Bailey were as sweet as they were comedic.
An interesting addition to the show was the insertion of live song, beautifully arranged by Katie Bond, Toby Starbuck and Pip O’Neill. The snippets of music added period colour to the production and stitched scenes together; an unexpected and very enjoyable element to the show.
It’s a Wonderful Life was an ambitious production of a complex film that was perhaps held back a little by the space. With a full house, it was a heart-warming production from the always creative and engaging Unmasked Theatre, and a fun way to spend a cold evening conjuring up some festive spirit.