Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (reviewed opening night 29 June).
Opening night of It’s a Wonderful Life presented by Joining the Dots Theatre was professionalism at its very finest, with energetic and heartfelt performances fuelled by tension and drama. Due to unforeseen circumstances that prompted the cancellation of the preview show and a cast reshuffling at the 11th hour, director Nicholas Papademetriou felt compelled to apologise in advance for any slip-ups during the show. The show must go on, and hee-haw! it did, to well-deserved rapturous applause. Not only was the show absolutely flawless in every way, but it brought the magic of theatre alive, making the best of a tightrope situation.
The ensemble breathe life into this original adaptation inspired by the Hollywood film, creating believable characters from the Great Depression era, where this story is set. The lead character is George Bailey, a man torn between his appetite for adventure and the economic reality he is entrenched in. Faced with mounting responsibilities, the pressure of running a business, and having his mental health pushed to breaking point, George is the everyday man many of us can identify and empathise with, played by Alex Bryant-Smith with precision, clarity and compelling intensity. Alex had a chat earlier this week with Sydney Theatre Reviews about his acting process which you can listen to here. “George Bailey is the product of an aspirational upbringing, he wants to leave Bedford Falls [where he grew up] and build things, big things like airfields and skyscrappers” says Alex, “but he’s torn between that and the circumstances he finds himself in…he’s up against hard-nosed capitalism and failing the people he loves and cares about…and that plays with his state of mind”.
Alison Chambers, actor, producer and artistic director of Joining the Dots, plays the role of Henrietta Potter, a mean-spirited Scroogian rival to George Bailey’s altruistic nature. Their clash in values is understated but epic, with Chambers manifesting a cat-like malevolence in her performance, ready to pounce on victims in moments of weakness.
Nicholas Papademetriou plays a guardian angel amongst other roles, and it was really lovely to see him channeling on stage (what felt like to me), an aura of ‘Saint Nic’ or ‘Papa Nic’ (especially in light of his pre-emptive speech). He is affectionally known amongst the cast as ‘Nicco’, and this particular role felt very protective and special. (Papademetriou also made me cry in his role as Einstein in Relativity, so I can officially say I’m a huge fan of his work).
The younger Nic, Nicholas Paranomos, is also to be commended for taking on several extra last minute roles to cover the cast reshuffling, delivering flawless off-script performances in every single one. (Interestingly, Paranomos means ‘unpredictable, adorable, confident’, so his namesake definitely checks out).
The remaining cast all have fantastic show credits behind them, with some I have seen in previous productions and many that are new to me, including Mark Barry, Luca Beretta, Ally Laybutt, Eliane Morel and Madeleine Withington. Their performances elevated this production by keeping true to its wholesome values and charm.
The set design is economised and unobtrusive, using a little more than ladders and chairs to allow freedom of imagination and play. Sound design by Alex Lee-Rekers is on point, meshing serendipitously with the organic noise of planes flying overhead (Marrickville is located bang on in the middle of a busy flightpath). Lighting Design by Jasmin Borsovsky combined with theatrical haze gently imparts ambience, mood and divine intervention at key moments. A nice touch is the use of vintage props, including candlestick phones and yellowed newspapers, creating authenticity and realism.
Overall, It’s a Wonderful Life turned out to be wonderful in every way, making its core message come true: no man is a failure in life as long as he has friends. Thank you to one and all for giving the show its wings.
It’s a Wonderful Life is currently playing at Hellenic Theatre in Marrickville till 15 July. For tickets and showtimes, go to https://events.humanitix.com/tours/its-a-wonderful-life
Image credit: Iain Cox Photography