Goodnight Mister Tom is a classic novel by Michelle Magorian; since its publication in 1981, the book has had continued success capturing the hearts of children and adults alike. Two musicals have been written based on the book, and a film has been made featuring the great British actor John Thaw. Now a new theatrical version by children’s dramatist, David Wood is taken on by ‘The Children’s Touring Partnership’ who are performing this production round the country.
William Beech is being sent away with all the other evacuees to the countryside where they are safe from the devastating war. His strict religious mother has insisted he be placed near a church and so he is given to Mr Tom Oakley, a grumpy old man in the village whose house is next door to the church. Traumatised by a childhood filled with rules and abuse, William is quiet and unhappy when he arrives in the lively town of Little Weirwold. Soon the friendly caring environment encourages William to be happier and more confident. With the help and guidance of kind ‘Mister Tom’ he learns to read and write and has the opportunity to explore his artistic talent.
The Rose Theatre provides a fitting platform for this play, and with the front floor seating, it involves the audience in the action. Unfortunately on press night, lighting problems meant a thirty-five minute delay to the start, rather irritating especially after the long and tiring journey to Kingston. The set by Robert Innes Hopkins is simple but persuasive, but lack of scene changes in the first half means the action moves along rather slowly.
Tiny Toby Prynne makes a superb William Beech, he is very convincing as the young protagonist and has a sensitivity that is well beyond his years. It is always a worry for me to watch a child in a leading role, I can’t help pre-empting a wrong foot, or forgotten line, however with Prynne I felt completely at ease and was able to enjoy his performance without any doubt of his ability. A very smiley and enthusiastic Emilio Crescenzo takes on the role of William’s new best friend, Zach. Crescenzo and Prynne complement each other on the Rose Stage. With three boys for each part, the kids have the challenge of working with different cast combinations.
As the elderly Tom Oakley, Oliver Ford Davis excels, and while watching I couldn’t help thinking how much this part suits him. Mr Oakley is a gruff old man but with a good heart, vulnerable William brings out the best in him and gives him purpose. This production has another dimension... stunning animal puppets made by the young and immensely talented Toby Olie. Tom’s trusted pal and dog Sammy is an important addition to the cast thanks to Olie’s masterful puppetry and Laura Cubitt’s brilliantly convincing portrayal.
This story is deeply evocative and thanks to the brilliant acting from the central pair is moving for all the audience. Though the cast and audience may be predominantly made up of children, this is definitely not just a kiddie show.
Continues until Saturday 14 May at venues round the country, more info here.