In December, we will once again be welcoming back Farnham Maltings Theatre Company’s adaptation of the 1950s classic, It’s A Wonderful Life. After an incredibly successful tour last year, the company has decided to dust off the cobwebs of this festive treat just in time for Christmas. We got the opportunity to sit down with the cast, Natalia Campbell, David Matthews, Mick Strobel and Jack Reid who plays central character George Bailey, and director Gavin Stride, in the midst of their busy rehearsal session to ask a few questions about this well-loved adaptation.
Jack: The rehearsals are going very well. It has been hard to gage momentarily as we have been rehearsing without an audience, so we haven’t been seeing any sort of reaction to it as of yet, apart from our director’s. When we get the audience in, that will be the time to see!
The company is known for its immersive and unique approach to performing theatre. How has this worked in terms of bringing this particular play to life?
Gavin: The theatre we make is targeted at the rural and smaller communities, with the main aim of reaching people who wouldn’t normally go to see the bigger productions in the cities. There is something special about making theatre in which we feel as visitors too, when we go to these different locations across the country. It is important to us that we feel we reach as many people as possible, and get them to engage with theatre in some way.
Natalia: In a way, this play is made for the small community. People are now looking for new and different experiences when they go to the theatre. Theatre shouldn’t feel exclusive and people are always surprised when they hear we are going to tour around village halls instead of larger venues. In our mind, we feel that everyone should be valued and included when it comes to seeing theatre performed. Theatre doesn’t necessarily have to be thought of as London-centric and we hope that this production will give another aspect to what theatre can be.
Mick: The audience can see the play as an expression of their own life. Although it might not be as desperate as how George sees his life in that moment, but it contains relatable themes for people to connect to.
David: It also brings in discussion, not just of themes within the play but also of experiences that the communities we are visiting, are going through. We had a performance last year in which the audience were divided over new housing issues within their local community, and the play seemed to really resonate with those political matters that they were experiencing at that time. However, it also is an incredibly moving and positive story which always seems to touch the entire audience.
Natalia: People are always curious to see how we do it. An audience member had once travelled four hours just to see how we managed to create a more intimate approach to this story!
Mick: Essentially, it comes from the four of us making it feel as real and accessible as possible to the audience. It is Natalia, David and I’s job to facilitate Jack in his portrayal of George, and to play all of these interchangeable roles is an exciting and very rewarding experience for us as actors. Having a smaller cast also can perhaps help the smaller communities we are visiting, connect with the piece more easily.
Jack, how does it feel to take on the role of George Bailey and how have you found joining the cast this year?
Jack: It feels great. The story is so timeless and I think people can really connect to it. The fact that the story is so old, yet has a modern undertone to it, makes it a joy to perform. I think the audience can really leave the production with a sense of hope.
What would you say to entice people to come and watch the play this Christmas?
Mick: It is a wonderful, well-executed story for the whole family to enjoy. Everything has been thought through and we believe that the audience can truly understand our version of this story.
Natalia: I believe, in some way, everyone has felt like George Bailey at some point in their life. We hope that this play can give the audience a feeling of warmth and hope, in a time of desperation globally and reminds people about the consequences of the paths we take in life.
The team begin their 2015 tour on Friday 27 November at Cranleigh Arts Centre and will visit 42 venues from tip-to-toe of England up until the end of January including 4 performances at Farnham Maltings between Thu 10 – Sat 12 December.