For this season’s production, Lyndhurst Drama & Musical Society presented the family favourite It’s a Wonderful Life as a live radio play broadcast on Christmas Eve 1946.
The Vernon Theatre was transformed into Studio A of WBFR, a commercial radio station in Manhattan, with all the actors sitting on the stage, each approaching the old fashioned microphones when it was their turn to speak.
Interest was piqued from the outset as incorporated in the usual sheet was a programme for the WBFR live broadcast, listing the various characters and the numerous parts they would be playing.
Before the play started, the actors walked around the theatre in character, introducing themselves to members of the audience.
Vic Milne was splendid as Freddie Filmore, the host of the radio show who also played six other parts.
Rupert Bogarde was excellent as Jake Laurents playing the engaging George Bailey, always trying to get away from suburban Bedford Falls to see the world but being held back by family loyalty to the Building and Loan Company, and Ingrid Bond was Hollywood star Sally Applewhite as his sweet wife Mary.
Mike Watson was Harry Heywood playing the amiable Clarence (George’s guardian angel) with a good Irish accent as well as six other parts including, in a strong Italian voice, Giuseppe Martini. Donna West was the glamorous Hope Merriweather playing Josephine, the Superintendent of Angels (Clarence’s boss) as well as Mary’s mother.
Richard Barnett was radio favourite Dayton Parker playing a range of parts including a taxi driver and a policeman, a quick-change feat cleverly achieved by his coat and hat being divided down the middle to show him facing right as a cabbie and facing left as a cop.
He was also the stern Henry F. Potter, the richest man in the area who wants to close the loan company and build all over town.
Debbie Murray was Lana Sherwood playing seven roles including George’s mother and his daughter and Hannah Marks was forces’ sweetheart Trixie Devine also playing seven roles including a superbly vampish Violet.
Last by no means least, Steve Davis was Willie Shultz, the overworked sound stage manager with an amazing array of sound effects, including playing the radio station adverts and jingles which had been prepared by Emma Davis.
Eventually Clarence, having shown how the world was a better place because George had lived, persuades him not to kill himself, and in so doing earns his longed-for wings.
This complicated but superb play was produced by Di Buck and brilliantly directed by Brian Buck, both of whom were very involved backstage with wardrobe, set construction and painting amongst their other tasks.
The talented actors seamlessly adopted different roles and ages, with clear voices and realistic accents throughout; the costumes, hairstyles, set and backdrop being very true to the era with ingenious props including a working wind machine.
It was a lovely evening – a wonderful escape from the cold weather outside.