COULD there be more alternatives to hyper-excitable pantomimes, pretty ice shows, A Christmas Carol by the dozen and enchanted children's theatre over the festive stretch?

East Riding Theatre's magical stage adaptation of Frank Capra’s classic 1947 film makes a strong case for broadening the choice. Granted, the only children in the Beverley theatre are to be found on stage as part of a cast of 12, but Jake Smith's delightful production has been playing to full houses. Good, because no rule says each and every winter show should put children first.

Your reviewer has made only occasional trips to ERT but has been rewarded with a John Godber premiere, a Richard Bean northern premiere and now Mary Elliott Nelson's new adaptation of "the best Christmas film ever". Please note, however, the words of director Jake Smith, who cautions: "The biggest challenge is [the audience's] expectation and you have to say very clearly this is not the film".

Indeed not. Instead, it offers surprises while being truthful to the narrative of The Greatest Gift, the short story that inspired It's A Wonderful Life and its tale of George Bailey, the 1940s' small-town clerk facing financial ruin, who wonders if his town of Bedford Falls would be better off without him.

Before the start, the cast sets the scene, mingling with the audience, offering mince pies, as we adjust to the Forties mien, the small-town depicted with business signage, snow-tipped conifers and the looming metal frame of a bridge, from where ERT debutant Andrew Joshi's George will contemplate ending it all. Scenes switch at ease between home and business premises, indoors and outdoors, childhood past and adult present, on Ed Ullyart's multi-tasking set, where movement director Helen Carpenter's choreography has a pleasingly circular flow through the 60-minute first act and 40-minute second.

Overseeing George's stuttering progress is an apprentice guardian Angel, a female in this version, who needs to save a soul to win her wings. As played by the indefatigable Harriet Benson, the Angel sprinkles glitter and magic alike, guiding both George and the audience. Joshi is terrific too as George, with the occasional hint of James Stewart in his voice, but making the role his own, as George rises to anger and desperation in the second act but always seeks to do the right thing for the greater good.

Young director Jake Smith already has worked for the National Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre and the Almeida and his joyous love of theatre shines through in the performances he elicits from the likes of Eliza Hewitt-Jones as Mary, Richard Avery as Uncle Billy and especially Clive Kneller as the acquisitive, sneering Mr Potter.

"The spirit of ERT is one of community, so what better production to present this Christmas than a story about the importance of community, the value of humanity and the true meaning of Christmas," said Smith. How right he is, as It's A Wonderful Life takes on a wonderful new life as a theatre show.

It's A Wonderful Life, East Riding Theatre, Beverley, until Saturday. Box office: 01482 874050 or