It's A Wonderful Life by Joining The Dots Theatre is a gift of love to Sydney. And, as a bonus as a Christmas Eve story to hold in your heart, the play makes a wonderful centerpiece for your own southern hemisphere Christmas In July celebrations.
Set in small town (US) America, It's A Wonderful Life is based on a 1943 short story, that was inspired by Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol of 100 years earlier, then produced as a film. The original story The Greatest Gift was written by Philip Van Doren Stern in November 1939. After it was rejected by several publishers, he had it printed as a 24-page pamphlet and mailed to 200 family members and friends for Christmas 1943. And if that isn't inspiring enough in itself, the 1946 Frank Cappa film was selected by a jury of 1,500 film artists, critics and historians as the most inspiring movie of all time.
Joining The Dots Theatre delivers a really beautiful, heart-touching rendition of It's A Wonderful Life. Really honest heart-felt performances make the characters seem real, despite the need of small independent theatre for the cast to perform multiple roles. I invested in these characters, and the pace of the play. As proof, in the final scenes, those tell-tale tears welled in my eyes, and trickled down my cheeks.
Nicholas Papademetriou did a superb job as director, and as the angel Clarence (along with his other roles). In the pivotal role of Clarence he shone pure joy on the production.
Alex Bryant Smith as George Bailey stole our hearts. He has you routing for him. He's done so much for others, you can feel how he would support you, and want to support him in return. Alex Bryant Smith carries George Bailey from an exuberant youth, through adventurous to dutiful caring adult with tender nuance and affection. What a wonderful performance, brilliant and believable. Even more, Bryant Smith gives us the feel for the time and place, not just for his character. That simpler time from the end of WWI to the end of WWII including the depression, when duty held a different meaning. He transports us as well as engages us. Similarly, Madeleine Withington as his childhood friend, and later wife, balances both the era and her relationship in a marvellous tender performance. The whole cast is strong - and Mark Barry, Luca Beretta, Alison Chambers, Ally Laybutt, Elaine Morel, and Nicholas Paranomos completed a sum bigger than their parts.
The set was outstanding. More and more, in independent theatre, I am enjoying a pared back set that allows the acting to shine. This set had gentle patina, composed of just vintage wooden ladders and stools that also served to announce the gentle era. Setting not just the time and place, but also the emotions. Supporting, rather than overtaking, the cast.
Sound design by Alex Lee-Rekers really hit the spot, adding amazing dimension.
Whether you already, like me, know this story, or not, you owe it to yourself to get to this production of It's A Wonderful Life. And, as a side benefit, you will also be supporting independent theatre in Sydney.
It's A Wonderful Life is on until 15 July 2023, at the Greek Theatre Marrickville