Wednesday, December 05, 2018

It’s a Wonderful Wee Christmas – a festive comedy with a serious message about mental health (Theatre at the Mill until 31 December)

Transplanting It’s a Wonderful Life from New York to New Mossley, writers and actors Caroline Curran and Julie Maxwell step into the shoes of a hard-working Credit Union manager whose life has got on top of him.

In It’s a Wonderful Wee Christmas, the man who has been so loyal to his community, and always goes the extra mile to help those around him, has forgotten to take care of himself. Angel-in-training Clara Crackingbody intervenes to remind Geordie Bailey about how he managed to get through past difficulties and points him towards those who have always walked with him and could do so once again.

Jimmy Doran quickly establishes Geordie as warm and empathetic as he tirelessly works through the long queue of Christmas Eve customers withdrawing cash for the holidays. Abi McGibbon plays Mary, his wife and teammate for life, and adds much hilarity in a number of other comic roles.

Julie Maxwell and Paddy Buchanan play the younger Geordie and Mary, and despite the differences between the couples in stature and appearance, the acting and direction sells the pretence. Caroline Curran takes the part of the angel, with a penchant for karaoke and some unorthodox techniques to bring Geordie to his senses.

The audience fissle with noisy sweet wrappers and gregariously giggle through the opening scenes, before the mood changes and they sit in silence as the frivolity melts away and the seriousness of the situation is exposed. Curran’s natural physicality and face-pulling were well exercised as she wordlessly acted during quieter scenes, while Maxwell has fun with a minor role with her mild-mannered conversation with strangers and attack dog menacing of her boyfriend.

While the cast of five are all strong and work well as an ensemble, if theatre performances had a player of the match, the award would have to go to Jimmy Doran for his relatable portrayal of someone in crisis experiencing an emotional breakdown.

A lot of details from the original film has been kept and embedded in this version. The Credit Union set is simple yet provides a number of built-in stages while the row of front doors are rather wonderful to watch as they descend from the fly tower. Conleth White’s precise lighting is very sympathetic to the play’s changing mood and gives the show the kind of classy look that normally comes with a much higher ticket price.

It’s a Wonderful Wee Christmas runs at the Theatre at the Mill until 31 December. It’s probably the only festive show on a local stage that could save lives by shining a spotlight on mental health and encouraging people to talk to those they love. But theatre is a great way of bringing a subject to life and planting ideas in people’s minds. For that, and the funny bits in-between, this show deserves applause.

No comments: