A famous Christmas hit is reimagined in The Town and Gown’s current show, which runs until 24 December
Review by Alex Fice
A timeless classic that promises to soften even the toughest of Scrooges, It’s A Wonderful Life is a much-loved Christmas staple. So iconic is Frank Capra’s 1946 film, that it leaves very little wiggle room for re-interpretation.
Despite this, the Town and Gown’s latest theatrical production offers an innovative – and highly accessible – reimagining of this festive favourite. Re-created by Joe Landry, It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play does exactly what it says on the tin. Over the course of two hours (with a 20-minute interval), the play follows five actors in a New York studio as they gather for a radio retelling of this familiar Christmas tale.
Each actor – apart from the lead playing George Bailey – takes on the role of multiple characters throughout the play, deftly switching from one voice or accent to the next. Anton Tweedale delivers a brilliantly sickening baddie, before side-stepping seamlessly into the role of senior angel narrating events from heaven. Sam Carlyle, Laura Mead and Kieran Dee all neatly navigate their rotating roles, while Jaymes Sygrove offers a dependable and sympathetic depiction of George Bailey, the troubled hero of the story.
When not rushing to take the mic, these actors set about creating a rich soundscape of foley effects using an array of eclectic props that pepper the backdrop of the set: a ‘crash’ box is dropped onto the floor when windows smash, shoes wedged onto hands pad up and down a wall at the back to evoke footsteps and combs are plucked to create the sound of chirruping crickets during a romantic tête-à-tête.
The creation of these innovative sound effects provides somewhere for the eye to roam to during this audio-led production, and – for anyone concerned about the visual appeal of a radio play – the actors’ performances are also brimming with dynamic facial expressions, body language and interactions between characters.
However, what makes this play so special is its potential to be enjoyed on different levels; while there is much to look at, the play can also be enjoyed without any visuals at all – and I enjoyed listening to snippets of the play with my eyes closed for a different effect. In fact, I found this elevated the intensity of all aural aspects – the voices and sound effects taking on a fuller and more resonant quality.
There are also playful touches throughout the show that introduce plenty of festive cheer. Imitating the corny style of commercial breaks of the era, the actors pause the action (often at emotional cliff-hangers) to inform their eager listeners of the latest cleaning product – or, more temptingly, of a certain local gin-maker (whose refreshments can be enjoyed during the play) – sung to the tune of classic Christmas songs.
In short, the Town and Gown Theatre’s festive show is true to its name – a wonderful treat that will make you relish the run up to Christmas, rather than resent it. And when you hear those immortal words, ‘No man is a failure who has friends’, you can be sure there won’t be a dry eye in the house.
It’s A Wonderful Life: A Radio Play is showing every night until Christmas Eve. Each ticket includes a complimentary G&T from Cambridge Gin Lab. Tickets are available online through the Town and Gown’s website.