Goodnight Mister Tom - Theatre Review

Most people are familiar with Michelle Magorian’s heartfelt novel Goodnight Mister Tom, at least by name, thanks in large part to the film adaptation shown every Christmas. Here we have another adaptation, this time from children’s theatre stalwart David Wood, presented in the Olivier award-winning production from Chichester Festival Theatre.

We follow a young boy called William, evacuated out to the countryside just before the outbreak of World War II. It is there he is begrudgingly taken in by the elderly Mr Tom Oakley (or Mister Tom as he will become known.) On realising William has been neglected and abused at home, the curmudgeonly Mister Tom starts to soften after forty years of grief for his wife and first born son. Together, and with the help of the quirky residents of Little Wierwold, they begin to blossom, bringing out the best in each other. All seems idyllic, until William is summoned back to London by his mother.

This is a real ensemble piece, and the cast work hard to create a bevy of interesting countryside characters. There is also some gorgeous puppetry from Elisa De Grey, who lovingly and believably brings Mister Tom’s dog Sammy to life. A playful and detailed performance, it adds a shine of joy to everything; Sammy nosing away at someone’s hand in a village meeting, his animal instincts kicking in after William vomits, his whimpers and moans when hiding in an air-raid shelter. What a delight!

David Troughton gives a solid performance as Mister Tom, and brings a tear to the eye with his subtle vocal breaking in moments of emotion. Melle Stewart also gives us a magnificent performance, switching deftly from the kindly teacher Mrs Hartridge, into William’s abusive and mentally disturbed Mother. The tense moment when William is called back to London by his Mother is almost even the more awful when you know the story well. We feel as much of a pang as the folk of Little Wierwold as they “wave him goodbye” (the familiar refrain of Gracie Fields popular song repeated throughout). When William finally arrives home, the whole encounter plays out with a devastating futility.

At the matinee performance reviewed, I believe William was played by Alex Taylor-McDowall, and his exuberant and outgoing fellow evacuee Zach by Oliver Loades. The relationship between the two boys is utterly adorable, made even more so by the singing, dancing, pontificating and romanticising of Zach. Both provided a brilliant performance, Hawkins subtlety personified, Kirby, the joyful opposite. Their close relationship makes the close of the play all the more heart-breaking, as William holds his dear friend’s memorable jumper to him, before pulling it on – the effect his vibrant friend has had on his life clear.

Whilst there is a risk for anything based on World War II to romanticize, on the most part any sentimentality is matched with brute honesty. Although some of the most dramatic lines don’t always quite land, it is immensely satisfying to see a family show where dark issues are dealt with without patronising the audience. This play maintains nearly all the horror of the original novel; child abuse, neglect, suicide, sudden death. All are relayed without any fussing, or preamble, which can only be to David Wood’s credit and the skilful direction of Angus Jackson. That’s not to say the production is without light – it has it in spades, and provides something for all the family to connect with.

A solid, enjoyable family production, it was wonderful to see the mix of ages laughing (and sniffing!) along to such a beloved modern classic.

Goodnight Mister Tom
Aylesbury
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
12th – 16th April, 2016

Then touring on to:

19 – 23 Apr 2016
Woking New Victoria Theatre

26 – 30 Apr 2016
Theatre Royal

3 – 7 May 2016
Cambridge Arts Theatre

10 – 14 May
Cardiff New Theatre

17 – 21 May
Newcastle Theatre Royal

Credits

Cast

Clark Devlin – George / Policeman
Elisa De Grey – Sammy / Puppeteer
Guy Lewis – Charlie Ruddles / David Hartiridge / Vicar / Mr Stelton
Simon Markey – Dr Little / Ticket Collector
Abigail Matthews – Ensemble / Miss Miller
Jane Milligan – Mrs Fletcher / Glad / Social Worker
Martha Seignior – Carrie / Sister
James Staddon – Mr Miller / Arp Warden
Mellie Stewart – Annie Hartridge / Mrs Beech
Georgina Sutton – Billeting Officer / Miss Thorne
Hollie Taylor – Ginnie / Nurse
David Troughton – Tom Oakley

With

Freddy Hawkins / Joe Reynolds / Alex Taylor-McDowall – William Beech
Sonny Kirby / Oliver Loades / Harrison Noble - Zach

Crew

Writer – Michelle Magorian
Adaptor – David Wood
Director – Angus Jackson
Designer – Robert Innes Hopkins
Lighting Designer – Tim Mitchell
Sound Designer – Gregory Clarke
Composer – Matthew Scott
Puppet Design and Direction – Toby Olié
Musical Staging – Lizzie Gee

http://www.goodnightmistertom.co.uk/

© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Wednesday 13th April, 2016, at the matinee performance.

Author's review: 
4