It’s A Wonderful Life

December 17, 2018 | By | Reply More

★★★☆☆    Profound

Cornerstone Centre: Sat 15 – Sat 22 Dec 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin
Tickets and details: Book here.

The heartbeat of humanity which lies at the core of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life is brought to the stage in a straightforward but never simple adaptation by Floating Brick Theatre, at the Cornerstone Centre to Saturday.

It’s a production which does not attempt to recreate the film’s cinematic details of life in small town America – framed with its iconic scenes of a main street covered in snow. Instead it looks to the mood and ideas which make it an enduringly popular Christmas movie.

Tamas Fazakas and Malcolm Jamieson

Indeed, the company have nothing by way of scenery, backdrop or even blackout. They perform in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows of the recently refurbished Cornerstone Centre which looks directly out onto Princes Street. For set, there are table, chairs and a phone.

Yet, so compelling is the telling of the story of George Bailey and his attempts to leave the town to which he is so important, that any distractions from the lights of the passing buses merges into the background. And if you do notice the outside world, then it just enhances the universal nature of the tale.



Tamas Fazakas, who adapted and directs, plays George – played by James Stewart in the movie. Fazakas brings something of Stewart to his delivery at times, a hint of his accent, but it never feels as if he is copying, or attempting to copy him, wholesale.

The story is told in flashback surrounded first by the news that George will attempt suicide in an hour’s time on Christmas Eve and finally by his enactment of that attempt.

Tell, not show

Clarence, a guardian angel of such great simplicity and faith that she has yet to earn her own wings, has that hour to learn something of the man, and what he has done in his life to become so important to those around him.

Clare McVay and Tamas Fazakas

Fazakas has sensibly opted to tell, not show, the early parts of George’s life. Meaning that Angela Milton, who brings an utterly naive charm to the role, has a lot of standing around to do as Clarence hears of George saving his small brother from under the ice and not delivering the prescription that would have poisoned its recipient.

Malcolm Jamieson has a busy time of it, playing both George’s kind-hearted father and then his feather-brained uncle, who founded the Bailey Brothers’ Building and Loan company together.

In fact, it is  busy cast all round. Samuel Thorne plays George’s young brother who goes off to war and returns a hero and a host of smaller parts. While Alexander Wiss takes on the roles of the authoritarian figures whose attentions to the Building and Loan help clip the wings of George’s dreams and bind him to his home town.

Crucially, all three ensure that there is never any problem in discerning which character is on stage, thanks to clear direction and sensible adaptation from Fazakas.

Which leaves Ben Blow to lord it over everyone in the peach of a role as Henry F. Potter, the greedy capitalist whose attempts to dissolve the Building and Loan are the ultimate cause of George’s failure to leave town and lead to his famous speech about standing up for the little man.

Tamas Fazakas and Ben Blow

Blow is thoroughly nasty as Potter. There is never any doubt about the succession of greedy, petty and small-minded decisions which will do for George and ultimately lead him to ponder his own demise.

Clare McVay’s wonderfully created Mary Hatch is his antithesis. McVay is all charm and deep longing, making Mary’s attentions to George apparent from the start – so much so that you almost feel compelled to yell out “kiss her” when he studiously fails to. Yet in a delicately balanced performance, it is clear that Mary’s love for George is as selfless as his own commitment is to helping others.

This understanding of the underlying fabric of the story helps make it more than a whimsical tale and into something altogether more profound.

In our time of unnecessary austerity, when it feels as if people are being deliberately targeted for being poor or old or disabled or unemployed, the play serves as a welcome reminder that, as a society, if we fail to hold a critical measure to those who have power and wealth, it will be to all our downfall.

There are slight disadvantages to the staging. It’s a flat room with no raised staging, so those at the back will not have as good a view as those at the front. But Fazakas makes good use of what he has at his disposal.

And yes, there will be a tear in your eye at the end.

Running time: One hour 20 minutes (no interval)
Cornerstone Centre 3A Lothian road, St John’s, EH2 4BJ
Saturday 15 – Saturday 22 December 2018
Evenings (not Sun, Fri): 7.30pm; Matinee Sat 22: 4pm.
Tickets and details:  Book here.

Floating Brick Theatre on Facebook: @floatingbricktheatre

Malcolm Jamies, Tamas Fazaks, Samuel Thorne and Ben Blow

ENDS

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