The production, which has been touring England and Wales over the past month or so, was brought to North Cadbury Village Hall by Take Art, Somerset’s highly enterprising arts charity. Skilfully directed by Gavin Stride and with an enchanting script by Mary Elliott Nelson, the play tells the heart-warming story of George Bailey, a desperate middle-aged clerk in small town America, who, with a little help from an apprentice guardian angel, discovers, in the nick of time, the positive difference his life has made to his family, his friends and his home town.
It was a production that could hardly be faulted – a five star show if ever there was one – and a perfect, life-affirming tale for a cold winter’s night. Richard Ede in the role of Mr. Nice Guy, George Bailey, was quite magnificent. It would have taken a hard heart indeed not to be completely won over by his energetic, charismatic performance. Full marks too to his supporting actors: Natalia Campbell, David Matthews and Mick Strobel who between them played all the other roles – his guardian angel, friends and family and various members of the community, including the odious money-grabbing Mr. Potter. Relying on changes of voice, posture and gait and, for the most part, with only the merest hint of a costume change, a remarkable range of residents of Bedford Falls came alive in front of our very eyes; characterisations that were well drawn and clearly differentiated without ever becoming caricatures.
As members of the audience, we too were gently drawn into the action to become not only fellow townsfolk but intimate friends too, and as we were sitting on all four sides of the main acting space it was easy to gauge reactions as the story unfolded. For the most part, feel good smiles abounded but I was certainly not the only one whose eyes were watering when George’s wife explained that several thousand dollars had been collected to cover the money that had been lost. Indeed, towards the end of the performance, our involvement in the story and total sympathy for the characters portrayed was such that our joining of hands to sing Auld Lang Syne seemed the most natural thing in the world.
It was refreshing to see a production that in no way relied upon special effects but which worked, in considerable measure, simply because it was unpretentious and allowed us to use our own imaginations. The lighting for the most part remained unchanged, (simple white Christmas type street lights strung across the ceiling illuminating cast and audience equally) sound effects were minimal, the singing simply harmonised and the scenery limited to just a few detached units raised up on stage blocks and furnished with well chosen props – the degree of detail of here was clearly a prime consideration, George’s ledger for example, or the angel’s type-written notes. All helped make the show an entrancing experience. But cheesy it was not. What could so easily have been another sickly sweet Christmassy tale somehow managed to maintain its integrity. Despite the production being almost at the end of its run it was fresh and sparkling and the standing ovation it received when it was all over was richly deserved. But with only two more performances to go before end of the run, unless you can get to Uckfield or Reading you’ve missed it. And you’ve missed a real, real treat.