Christmas Classic Reimagined: ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ Set to Dazzle at Liverpool’s Royal Court


It might be a little too early to talk about Christmas, but with news like this, it’s impossible not to share. Liverpool-based theatre company Old Fruit Jar Productions are bringing one of the most beloved Christmas stories to the stage. It’s A Wonderful Life (Based on the 1946 film) will open at Liverpool’s Royal Court on November 19th and run for two weeks in the venue’s intimate studio theatre.

It’s A Wonderful Life, adapted for the stage by Mary Elliott Nelson, follows the story of George Bailey, a down-on-his-luck banker who believes life has left him behind. On Christmas Eve, after being driven to the edge of despair, George contemplates throwing his life away. His Guardian Angel, Clarence, shows him what life would have been like if he never existed and the truth behind what makes a meaningful life. This feel-good story is an excellent example of just how valuable the gift of life is and how large of an impact even one person can have on the lives of so many others, and there is no better company to bring this to the stage than the incredible strong ensemble that Old Fruit Jar Productions will bring!

For those who don’t know, Old Fruit Jar Productions are the young, talented, and dynamic group who brought the gripping Yorkshire Ripper drama The Incident Room to venues in Liverpool last year to standing ovations and sell out performances! I caught up with creative director of the company, and the director of It’s A Wonderful Life, Alex Carr, to see what he had to say about bringing the timeless classic to the stage.

PRM: What inspired you to choose It’s A Wonderful Life as the next production for your company?

AC: It’s A Wonderful Life is a story I’ve always wanted to tackle as a director. Obviously, the film is so successful and well-loved by those who know it, but it’s rarely seen on stage. As a company, we always look for stories rich in themes and narrative and with characters to sink our teeth into. We always have a loose idea of what we want to explore next, and this play quickly made itself apparent. It’s A Wonderful Life provides essential messages and themes that we want to amplify to audiences. We plan to do a lot with the story to modernise its themes and motifs to make it relevant to the world as it is now and champion the necessity for peace and kindness in the face of disparity. Plus, The Incident Room was very heavy-hitting for us and our audience; we spent a year immersed in some of the ugly parts of society – so it’ll be great to shine a light on the beautiful!

PRM: Are you planning to capture the charm and nostalgia of the original film?

AC: I think audiences will be pleased to know that we’re keeping the original setting of It’s A Wonderful Life, that is the 1930s/40s era, and it’ll still be set in the small American town of Bedford Falls. That’ll be the audience’s way into the play because it’s familiar. Mary Elliot Nelson has brilliantly adapted the film for the stage so that certain iconic scenes and dialogue still exist, but there are some differences too. Some characters have been totally omitted or combined with others for ease of performance or have even been altered to provide a completely fresh perspective on the story, which is something we’re really excited about! I think it’s important that audiences come in with an open mind, though. We’re not just translating the film to the stage; we want to tell the story as though it’s the first time you’ve ever heard it or seen it. As we’ve done with all of our productions so far, we want to make It’s A Wonderful Life an immersive and thought-provoking theatrical experience – bringing the town of Bedford Falls into the auditorium and around the audience to make it a living, breathing entity in its own right. That’s where the magic of theatre happens when the audience is brought along for the ride without having to lift a finger.

PRM: Can you share any insights into the casting process? What qualities are you looking for in the actors who will portray iconic characters like George Bailey and Clarence the Angel?

AC: Yeah, definitely. The characters of It’s A Wonderful Life are so iconic and well-known that there was this immediate pressure, I suppose, to uphold what people know is true about the film. You know, it’s almost a sacred thing that we’re meddling with. But we had to sit down as a team and really get to grips with my vision for the story. As I said before, we’re not translating the film to the stage and there are some differences in the characterisations of the people in the story that make this stage adaptation unique – and that’s been great to play with. We could go into the casting process knowing that we were not looking for the next Jimmy Stewart or Donna Reed but rather for actors who could show the emotional range that the story takes us on and match the energy of the constantly moving and unfolding narrative, and that’s what we’ve got. A really strong, talented ensemble with so many different skills that’ll make the inhabitants of Bedford Falls seem real, but also totally fresh. I also just want to point out that we’re also working with people who are barely out of university, and this is their first professional show. That’s who we were when we first started producing work together, so it’s very emotional to be able to give back to local talent in that way. I’m really excited for opening night and for audiences to see this magnificent cast on stage, their versatility and ability is astounding!

PRM: So, you’ve mentioned modernising some of the themes and concepts the play and its on-screen counterpart explore. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

AC: Yeah! So many of the poignant themes in It’s A Wonderful Life can be identified in the world and society we live in. I’m keen to explore men’s mental health themes with our production. The play begins, as the film does, with the audience discovering that George Bailey is considering suicide as a way out of the crushing pressure he’s under in his life. In our version, Clarence, his guardian angel, is supposed to mirror George in age and personality, suggesting that in another life, they could have been friends suggesting the importance of reaching out to your friends in their time of need, offering advice and another outlook that could change their perspective when things seem too much. There’s a lot of personal experience that I’m drawing from here to bring that to the forefront of the play. Obviously, the film is very emotional, but I think with the societal shifts of the last decade or so and the focus on mental health there is much more that can be done with this thread. Then, there are the obvious themes of poverty, recession, and war – I don’t need to say more about that. It has affected this country and the world for a few years. What we really want to do, though, is highlight the importance of kindness and the importance of community in times of need – rather than fighting each other or trying to climb the ladder, humanity succeeds best when we band together in the face of adversity. Despite the play’s period setting, it’s important to me that the audience see the world we live in today through the vignettes of George Bailey’s life. He may be fictional, but his struggle, personality, and circumstances certainly aren’t. 

PRM: In The Incident Room, you used sounds and music to great effect. There was a haunting score by Florence King and the incredibly poignant and fitting Joy Division song: Atmosphere to play the audience out. How are you planning to incorporate music into It’s A Wonderful Life?

AC: I’m so glad you asked this question, it’s something we’re really excited about! Florence [one of Old Fruit Jar] is a really talented musician and singer as well as an actor, and so is Rachel [another company member], so both of them are working hard at getting some live music elements organised for It’s A Wonderful Life! Music was undoubtedly such a HUGE part of the culture of the 30s-40s and we really want to reflect that in our adaptation. With it being set at Christmas there’ll be some carols that the entire company will sing as we transition through the play, but there’ll be some moments where we use music for reflection, mirroring the feelings and mood of the time and the characters. And much in the spirit of community, there’ll be an opportunity for the audience to join in too!It’ll be the first time we use live music and vocals in one of our productions which is going to be absolutely amazing – especially in the Studio at Liverpool’s Royal Court!

PRM: That was my next question; this is your third visit to the Studio at Liverpool’s Royal Court after Twelfth Night and The Incident Room; how does it feel getting to perform in such an iconic venue?

AC: It’s a real “pinch yourself” moment. The Royal Court is such a major player in Liverpool and the wider areas for theatre, so it’s just mind-blowing that we’re getting to collaborate and work in such a gorgeous place.I love the Studio at Liverpool’s Royal Court. It’s such an intimate space that just lives and breathes independent theatre. It’s a home-from-home for us! We started Old Fruit Jar Productions rehearsing in living rooms or gardens (if the weather let us!) and put our first show on with literal blood, sweat, and tears…we certainly didn’t think we would be in this position when we first formed, but Jess Bolger and the team have been so supportive. They’ve given us the opportunity to flourish and grow, and we’re really excited to continue that relationship with such a powerhouse figure in theatre in the North West!

So there we have it! It’s A Wonderful Life is shaping up to be one of the must-see shows this Christmas. Who could pass up on an opportunity to see this timeless classic LIVE on stage? I certainly won’t.

Tickets for It’s A Wonderful Life can be purchased here (

19th – 30th November, at 7:30PM with 1:30PM Saturday Matinees.


Robbie Fletcher-HillGeorge Bailey
Jordan BarkleyClarence
Florence KingMary Bailey, Ensemble
Josh EnnisUncle Billy, Ensemble
Rachel McGrathViolet Bick, Ensemble
Sean RadfordBert the Cop, Ensemble
Anthony RobertsHarry Bailey, Ensemble
Sienna MorrisRuth Dakin-Bailey, Ensemble
Taona MatopeSam Wainwright, Ensemble
Luke SeddonMr Potter, Ensemble
Andrew JohnsonThe Angel Joseph, Ensemble
Faye GriffithsThe Angel Gloria, Ensemble
Written for the stage byMary Elliott Nelson
Directed byAlex Carr
Based on the film byFrank Capra
Produced byOld Fruit Jar Productions
Associate ProducerLiverpool’s Royal Court
Original Music byFlorence King
Musical Arrangements byFlorence King Rachel McGrath
Poster DesignEmily Kelly

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