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It’s a Wonderful Life at The Town and Gown Pub Theatre, Cambridge

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Welcome to Radio HSDMT. It is Christmas Eve and on the “playhouse of the air” this commercial wireless station will present a radio version of the film It’s a Wonderful Life.

The actors are the stars of New York City, ladies, AND gentlemen.

It’s a Wonderful Life is at The Town and Gown in Market Passage Cambridge until Saturday, December 24.

The theatre upstairs at the Town and Gown pub in Cambridge becomes an audio studio in 1950s America.

The audience is welcomed in and told that listeners across the states will be listening in – depending on them and their reactions. They will be silent once the On Air signs go red, but they must raise the roof when the placards saying “applause” are held up.

And every so often, there will be commercial breaks –catchy jingles will be sung advertising the products of the sponsors, makers of hair gel – and soap which cleans bugs off car windscreens.

It’s a Wonderful Life is at The Town and Gown in Market Passage Cambridge until Saturday, December 24.

This radio adaptation by Joe Landry which premiered in 1996, is faithful to the classic Christmas movie. The acting at the Town and Gown is immaculate and the atmosphere created so realistic that the story is truly moving. We hesitated to clap when On Air was live. We thought we really were in a radio studio.

Most of us are familiar with the story of George Bailey, the decent family man who inherits his father’s building and loan business, (what we would call a building society) in the American small town of Bedford Falls.

Bailey, who has sacrificed his dream of world travel on his father’s sudden death, is generous to his customers. He saves them and the town from the clutches of his avaricious and unscrupulous rival, the capitalist known as Mr Potter.

It’s a Wonderful Life is at The Town and Gown in Market Passage Cambridge until Saturday, December 24.

Like all good tales, the story has an arc. All is live-long-and-prosper -until George’s hapless Uncle Billy loses 8,000 dollars of the company’s cash on the way to the bank. The money is found by the wicked Potter who holds on to it, gleeful that the Bailey family business will now be ruined.

Fearing jail and disgrace for his family, George decides to kill himself. He says he wishes he had never been born. This is where Clarence the angel comes in. He is sent from Heaven to show George how many people’s lives –and indeed the entire town- would have been destroyed if it had not been for the actions of George Bailey.

George’s wife Mary, for example, would have been a spinster. In Frank Capra’s film that means she becomes plain and must wear glasses – but it was 1946 so we will let that go. In being shut out from his life (he wanders the town to find that no one knows him – not even Mary) George realises that what he had was a wonderful life.

It’s a Wonderful Life is at The Town and Gown in Market Passage Cambridge until Saturday, December 24.

A cast of five play multiple roles and create the sound effects at the back of the stage. Cornflakes are crunched for walking on snow, something labelled a crash box is dropped to imitate broken glass, a spoon on a tea-cup mimics drinks clinking in a bar.

Jaymes Sygrove is magnificent as George, the role played by James Stuart. He recreates Stuart’s voice and demeanour in a deeply touching performance.

As in the movie, Bailey, though a loving husband and father, is no saint. Under pressure, he loses his temper with his children. Sygrove’s Bailey changes from naïve and wondering, -the all-American decent boy, to an honourable but exasperated man.

Among other roles, Sam Carlyle plays Mary Bailey as the sweet all-American girl, the patient and understanding wife.

Laura Mead’s main role is the contrasting Violet Bick, earthy, a bit tarty, unlike the sensible and wholesome Mary, always in need of money. Anton Tweedale is the heavenly narrator who tells George’s story to Clarence and to us.

He also plays the dastardly Potter and the flamboyant Italian restaurateur Giuseppe Martini. Kieran Dee is the affable Clarence, the apprentice angel whose challenge to help George will earn him his wings. Every time a bell rings, an angel gets their wings.

Directed by Karl Steele, this in house production by the Town and Gown is superbly performed with great attention to detail and flows as smooth as silk. One of Christmas’s favourite festive fables is faithfully told. In our desperate times, it will ring bells. It’s a Wonderful play.

It’s a Wonderful Life is at The Town and Gown in Market Passage Cambridge until Saturday, December 24.

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