This live radio play version of It’s A Wonderful Life by Tony Palermo, a co-production between No Nonsense Productions and Beacon Arts Centre, is a festive treat which, as with the classic film of 1946 by Frank Capra, goes to pretty dark places.
Brian O’Sullivan takes the lead of George Bailey, the classic affable Everyman figure down on his luck. He is a superb choice, with his open features and warmth, ably matched in Martine McMenemey’s loving, intelligent Mary, and also the role of flirty Violet.
But what makes this production such a joy is the meta nature of having the play-within-a-play, with the supporting cast riffing on cliches of the forties Hollywood system. So there’s Estrid Barton’s diva, full of gin and entitlement, Ian Sommerville taking on roles which suit his velvety tones, and in many scene stealing roles, Leonna McGilligan as the underdog actor, always just a beat behind the others. She’s hilarious, with a perma-doleful expression and superb comic timing.
Another wonderful aspect is director/producer Kevin Jannetts providing the sound effects, drawing attention to both the limitations and invention required of making a radio play. So, a squawking bird is represented by an umbrella for the flapping wings, a pair of scissors tapped to represent typewriter keys, and so on. It’s always a joy to watch, and reminiscent at times of Dusty Horne’s Sound and Fury, the superb Edinburgh Fringe hit of this year, which dealt in Foley work- the sound effects of those unsung Hollywood heroes behind the scenes.
Tom Urie brings both melodrama and heart-warming Christmas cheer to his musical interludes on the piano, and there’s always a break to include ‘a word from our sponsors’- in this case, ‘Catsup’ and Ivory face cream, both gently parodied in that ‘golly gee shucks, ain’t it grand’ way of quaint American advertising from more innocent times.
Of course, the play itself deals in big business as a corrosive influence on smalltown life, and there cannot help but be a line traced through to the present-day, where the President-Elect one Donald Trump seems hellbent on emulating the play’s corrupt villain Henry Potter, with notions of squeezing the little guy to expand on his empire, no matter what the human cost. It’s a worrying and prescient theme, which sadly seems to be as relevent as ever today. If there is an underlying motif here, it’s George and Mary Bailey’s belief that people hold the keys to decency, community and always doing the right thing.It may be quaint, but this is at the heart of living a wonderful life.A small, but perfectly formed, triumph.
Reviewed at Oran Mor, touring
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