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It's a Wonderful School Production

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This year staff and pupils at Bolton School Boys’ Division had to be even more creative than usual when considering their annual festive dramatic production. Employing the services of Sitcom Soldiers, a video company founded by Old Boys Ben Thornley and Chris Jones, the School settled on producing a filmed version no less of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. The cast auditioned online, rehearsed via Zoom for months, rehearsed in-person for just a few days, in bubbles, and then rose to the challenge of socially distanced theatre for film. 

The Great Hall at the School was a socially distanced film set for three days. A couple of the cast had to isolate at home during the filming days but through the wonder of technology were still able to feature in the film as celestial voices. Some elements of the production were perhaps more muted than they would usually be due to COVID-safe approaches and the piece was distanced according to year group bubbles. The characters playing George, young George/Tommy and Mary were part of the same household bubble. 

The show is reviewed in full here by former pupil Sam Warburton:

'For this year’s festive production, pupils staged an adaptation of Frank Capra’s classic Christmas film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. 

This iconic tale follows George Bailey. George runs the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan, a small business which supports the townsfolk and prevents the villainous businessman Mr Potter from gaining full control over the town. In serious financial trouble, George contemplates suicide. His guardian angel, Clarence Odbody, is sent from Heaven to save George. Clarence shows George how his kindness has helped others. With George still suicidal, Clarence shows him how the town and his friends would suffer if George had never existed. Realising he has actually lived a wonderful life, George rushes back to his family and the townsfolk donate enough money to save the Building and Loan. Clarence is finally given his angel wings and all ends happily. 

The entire cast performed superbly. Charlie Griffiths took on the role of George, perfectly capturing a man whose kindness and selflessness manage to overcome despair and hopelessness. Standout performances came from Jude Ashcroft and Finley Littlefair, who played Mr Potter and Clarence respectively. Jude’s portrayal of the sneering and ruthless Mr Potter was simply spot-on and his accent and delivery were masterful. Finley conveyed the optimism and joyfulness of Clarence excellently. He was the emotional anchor of the piece. Strong supporting performances came from Emilie Fielding (playing George’s loyal and caring wife Mary), Anthony Johnson (playing George’s warm but bumbling Uncle Billy), Rosalyn Harper playing Violet Bick (a long-time admirer of George) and Matthew Settle (playing George’s successful brother Harry). 

Despite the immense challenges posed by the pandemic, the production was a technical triumph. Scenes from Capra’s film were cleverly integrated into the play, fuelling a poignant and warm feeling of nostalgia. The online format also allowed the many flashback scenes to work seamlessly. The use of lighting was effective, particularly in scenes with Mr Potter who is often flanked on both sides by his imposing shadow. The costume was authentic and props were used well. Watching George struggle to sit in a deliberately small chair in Potter’s office was great fun. 

Whilst we could not come together physically to watch this performance, the cast and crew managed to put together a full evening of entertainment. Opening and closing comments from Charlie and Jude set the mood well and musical numbers from Josh Kay in the interval added authenticity to the evening. A short film was also played in the interval, with the cast reflecting on what a wonderful life means to them. 

At the end of a long and difficult year, this show could not be more timely and welcome. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is a beloved classic because it is simple, sincere and heart-warming. This is what the case and crew managed to capture. The show’s final moments, which saw the cast singing Auld Lang Syne in the Great Hall together epitomised this. Thanks must go to all involved, including the cast, school staff, parents and professionals from the Octagon and Sitcom Soldiers for putting together this brilliant and creative adaptation.'

The film will go on 'general release' on Thursday 17 December at 4pm. Watch it here and pick up a digital programme here.

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