IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE at Reading Rep Theatre
“If you feel like a great big Christmas hug, go along and see this elegant and lovely show”
Who hasn’t seen ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, the classic 1946 Christmas film directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart? It’s a hugely popular and tear-jerking Christmas tale of all-American neighbourliness in which humble George Bailey always puts others before himself. Except that things go horribly wrong for him. The only remedy is to send three heavenly envoys down to Earth on Christmas Eve to prevent him from ending it all. The original story was loosely inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and is presented by Reading Rep in Mary Elliott Nelson’s theatrical adaptation, first performed in 2000.
A cast of just four faultlessly juggle three or more roles apiece in this highly inspired show – Mark Desebrock (Hedda Gabler: Reading Rep, Hamlet: Almeida West End), Eugene Evans (Peter Pan: Reading Rep, Romeo & Juliet: Lyric Theatre), Orla O’Sullivan (War of The Worlds and We’ll Catch Stardust Yes We Will: The Vaults) and Charlotte Warner (A Christmas Carol, A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Reading Rep).
Mark Desebrock makes a strong impression as the sweet-natured banker George Bailey, who is well-matched with Orla O’Sullivan as his wife Mary and as a second class and so far wingless angel called Clarissa (Clarence in the movie). She shows George all the lives he has transformed and how much worse the world would be had he not existed. Eugene Evans is the wicked villain of the piece, scruple-free businessman Mr Gower, and also (with hardly a pause for breath) a soft spoken angel. Charlotte Warner is the third angel and also George’s characterful aunt.
In this delightful show, Libby Todd’s set and costumes are quite ingenious. Pale colours designate the angels and brighter colours the townspeople. The set is dominated by an enclosing arch formed by a lattice of grey snow-topped girderwork, its arc echoing the circle of snow on the floor and also the globes carried by the angels. There’s a bridge at the back of the set from which George plans to jump. It all works nicely with Aaron J Dootson’s sophisticated lighting design, with a backdrop of stars and colour changes that symbolise different kinds of action on stage.
Reading Rep have a hit on their hands in this heart-warming evocation of small town America with a universal appeal. If you feel like a great big Christmas hug, go along and see this elegant and lovely show. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ runs in repertory with ‘Potted Panto’ until December 30th.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE at the Reading Rep Theatre
Reviewed on 5th December 2023
by David Woodward
Photography by Harry Elletson
Previously reviewed at this venue:
It’s a Wonderful Life
It’s a Wonderful Life