After a groundbreaking season featuring drugs, a murder trial and male strippers, Phoenix Ensemble heads into more wholesome territory with an innovative adaptation of Frank Capra's much loved Christmas story, It's A Wonderful Life, as its final show of the year.
It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is performed as a 1940s live radio broadcast in front of a studio audience. Ten actors perform the dozens of characters in the radio play as well as produce the sound effects.
The Phoenix production, directed by Steve Pearton, will play at the boutique Pavilion Theatre in Beenleigh over two weekends from December 6, including Sunday matinees.
Steve (last seen on the Phoenix stage in 12 Angry Men) says the original Capra film has always been a personal favourite, and as soon as he read the radio show adaptation, he knew he wanted to tell the story.
"It was also an appropriate time in my life to create something uplifting and inspiring. I see theatre as a way of giving back to the community, and doing a story like this is a perfect chance to give audience members a warm-fuzzy feeling leading into the hectic Christmas period."
The director says the story remains a favourite among audiences because of its universal themes that reflect earlier material including, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and Dante's Divine Comedy.
"It's about an everyman character in crisis. He must endure a period of trial and suffering before finding happiness. He can only find salvation by accepting the joys as well as the sorrows in his life.
"Frank Capra (the director of the original 1946 film) was himself a Christian, and many religious themes run through his stories, most notably this one. It's ultimately a very uplifting and humanitarian story, and hopefully it's a journey that everybody can relate to."
Presenting a radio play on stage brought a number of challenges for Steve and his cast, not the least being the fact the actors spend most of their time working only with their voice and a microphone. Which is what makes the presence of the "studio" audience so important.
"We've incorporated a degree of interaction between the actors while they are on mic to heighten the emotion elements of the story and as visual guides for the 'studio' audience. There is also a certain amount of insider jokes written into the script purely for the benefit of the live audience, all of which helps us to tell the story.
"We are relying heavily on three main things: the quality of the vocal performances; the pre-recorded sound effects and music; and the creation of live sound effects. Alone, any one of those things is pretty lifeless. Mixed together, it's possible to create a wonderful (pun intended) atmosphere that brings the story to life. In a sense, we are bringing a kind of magic back to theatre.'
Steve describes it as a very old-fashioned way of telling a story. "It involves the audience in the telling because they have to use their imagination. As an added bonus, they get a peek into the behind-the-scenes world of how radio works."
The concept of radio plays as theatre is one growing in popularity at the moment and Steve is confident this production will be one of the best presented to date in Brisbane.
"Audiences can expect a fresh retelling of a classic story. There may also be a few surprises in store, so keep your eyes and ears open!"
Venue: Pavilion Theatre, Beenleigh Showgrounds, James Street, Beenleigh
7.30pm: 6, 7, 13, 14 December
3pm: 8, 15 December
Tickets: $24 adult; $22 concession, $20 child (under 15)