It's A Wonderful Life

As much as The Skinny really wants to unequivocally like this show, there are things that just don't work.

Feature by Philippa Cochrane | 06 Jan 2008
The festive season is still with us (just) and even the most world weary in our midst enjoy the comfort of fondly remembered treats at this time of year. It's a Wonderful Life is undoubtedly one of those, especially a stage adaptation with Rosslyn Chapel as a backdrop. It's probably (in the opinion of this reviewer at least) the best Christmas film ever made, with a story that genuinely pulls at every heartstring you have. A small reminder, in case you've forgotten (how could you!): George Bailey grew up dreaming of escape from Bedford Falls and travelling the world. However, he stays to ensure that the vile Mr Potter does not take control of the every aspect of town life. One dark Christmas Eve George despairs at the road his life has travelled, only to be saved from suicide by Clarence Oddbody, Angel Second Class.

This production remains meticulously faithful to the original film. Very little is cut out and the likeable and hardworking cast make a pretty good job of bringing all the characters to life. Fraser Sivewright plays George just as he should – right down to some of James Stewart's mannerisms – making him a likeable, honest, principled and yet very human character. Susan Coyle is very engaging as George's wife Mary and Colin Moncrieff is admirable as Clarence, George's brother Harry and Mr Potter – frankly, the man deserves a medal, three very different characters, all essential to the piece and he never misses a beat.

However, as much as The Skinny really wants to unequivocally like this show, there are things that just don't work. Rosslyn Chapel is an intriguing venue, and could make the right play an unmissable event. Unfortunately, a tale of small town America is not the right play and the combination leaves you wondering why NonsenseRoom made that choice, especially as performing to a small audience in the round makes some of the stage business feel clunky when it could have been seamless in a traditional theatre setup. The point of using a non-traditional, unusual, and, in this case, fascinating venue for theatre is that it should bring a life of its own to the piece, not leave the audience questioning the point. Especially when the venue is as cold as Rosslyn Chapel is on a December night.

Also, this stage version sticks to its filmic source too literally, making scenes short and choppy in places. Live theatre is a different medium and giving actors the opportunity to develop their characters further and build the connections with a very intimate audience requires a different approach to the writing than a barely changed film script will allow. It is a shame that a great story and a good cast are let down by basic production issues and stage craft. This is a play that will give you your dose of Christmas nostalgia, but it won't stay with you much past the festive season.
run ended
Rosslyn Chapel, Midlothian