It’s a Wonderful Life at Bridge House
The production takes the form of a 1940s radio play, with the characters mainly standing side-by-side and speaking into two microphones front of stage, facing the audience rather than each other. It’s a good twist, and helps the audience buy into the illusion of the varied scenes and locations that are conjured up on the featureless set, with minimal use of props. It also helps the production feel much bigger – Bridge House Theatre is tiny, with seating for only about 30 people, but the idea that there are thousands of people listening, and we are the privileged few who get to watch, comes across successfully.
This play gives the cast an opportunity to have some fun with the material. Their hokey accents and wide-eyed stagey antics are a knowing wink that helps undercut some of the more saccharine elements. The actors are uniformly excellent, tackling multiple roles and slipping seamlessly between them with only a subtle shift in gait or accent. The radio setting also gives an opportunity for some clever production choices, such as some old radio ads for local businesses in between acts, some innovative sound design, and a sign held aloft for us to applaud on cue.
The pacing does feel slightly off, with the entire first half given over to George’s early life and later decline into bankruptcy, leaving the journey with Clarence and the famous ending all to the second half. It leaves George’s redemption feeling a little rushed – but it’s such a classic story that it can hardly fail to raise a little seasonal warmth in even the stoniest of hearts. There are a few damp eyes in the audience for sure.
Ending with an ensemble sing-along of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, it feels like being transported back to a simpler, less cynical time. More Christmassy than mince pies and mulled wine, a trip to Penge will certainly put you in the holiday spirit.
It’s a Wonderful Life is on at Bridge House Theatre until 4th January 2015, for further information or to book visit here.