Under normal circumstances 9 year old William Beech from Deptford in south London wouldn’t have met 60 year old Tom Oakley from Little Weirwold in Dorset but these are not normal circumstances – it’s September 1939, war with Germany is on the horizon and the children of London are being evacuated to safe havens in the country. Tom has volunteered to have a child even though he’s a bit of a curmudgeon and William is who he gets.
The play opens in Little Weirwold as the various children are placed in homes in the bucolic village. William is quiet and withdrawn and Tom who has no children of his own, finds it hard to get through to the youngster. When William gets undressed for bed, Tom sees that the boy is covered in bruises and has obviously come from an abusive home which is why he seems to be afraid of his own shadow. But gradually with the help of Tom and his dog Sammy, William starts to enjoy the country life and the boy who’s illiterate, is even taught to read and write by Tom.
Although teased by the local kids, he starts to make friends especially with Zach a fellow evacuee, who as the son of two actors, is as outgoing as William is introverted and the two are soon the best of chums.
Tom gradually starts to relax and he and William start to open up to each other. Tom’s wife had died 40 years earlier in childbirth and the baby, a boy hadn’t survived. Tom starts to see William as a surrogate son and they bond when Tom gives William his wife’s paints and easel as the boy is a talented artist.
In the second act, William has to return to London as his mother is ill and we see that he’s been living in a horrible slum with his bible-bashing and child-bashing mother. Tom and Sammy go to noisy, smoky London in the middle of the blitz looking for William. They find him in the most harrowing of circumstances and Tom then has to make a big decision about what to do about William’s future well-being – even if it means defying the authorities.
Goodnight Mr Tom was originally a highly successful novel by Michelle Morgan and has been adapted for the stage by famed children’s playwright David Wood. This production which originated in Chichester in 2011 and has been on tour, is a welcome addition to the West End. Quintessentially English, it hits all the right notes and there wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre when William told Tom that he loved him!
The staging is superb and when the scene shifts to London, pastoral Dorset is literally pulled into the sky like a drawbridge, to be replaced a dirty, urban slum. Apart from that set-piece, the set is quite simple but everything from the moving of props to the use of music from the period is beautifully and sensitively done.
On top of that we have some wonderful performances. David Troughton is perfect as the old man who doesn’t really know how to deal with a young child but he learns and the change in Tom’s character as he grows fond of William is a delight. Joe Reynolds is an excellent “William” and special mention must go to Sonny Kirby as “Zach” who in a memorable scene gets in touch with his inner Fred Astaire – as well as his inner Ginger Rogers! “Sammy The Dog” is played War Horse style by Elisa de Grey who soon convinces the audience that it’s a real dog and not a puppet. The rest of the ensemble cast who play multiple roles are all first-rate too.
This poignant, uplifting play is perfect for adults and children alike and in these troubled times, there’s a lesson to be learned from the past about love and community spirit.
Review by Alan Fitter
David Troughton, who is currently the voice of Tony Archer on BBC Radio 4’s long-running British contemporary rural drama, The Archers, takes to the stage as Mister Oakley and is joined by an ensemble cast featuring Clark Devlin, Elisa de Grey, Guy Lewis, Simon Markey, Abigail Matthews, Jane Milligan, Martha Seignior, James Staddon, Melle Stewart, Georgina Sutton and Hollie Taylor.
Six talented young performers have been cast in the key roles of William and Zach. Joe Reynolds, Freddy Hawkins and Alex Taylor-McDowall will alternate the role of William and Sonny Kirby, Harrison Noble and Oliver Loades will alternate as Zach. Please note the production images feature Alex Taylor-McDowall (William) and Oliver Loades (Zach).
The novel Goodnight Mister Tom is now a modern classic and is celebrating its 35th anniversary. Michelle Magorian’s wonderfully uplifting tale is brought gloriously to life in this magical stage adaptation by David Wood. Set during the dangerous build up to the Second World War, Goodnight Mister Tom follows young William Beech, who is evacuated to the idyllic English countryside and forges a remarkable and heart-warming friendship with the elderly recluse, Tom Oakley.
GOODNIGHT MR TOM
By DAVID WOOD
From the classic novel by Michelle Magorian
Director ANGUS JACKSON
Designer ROBERT INNES HOPKINS
Lighting Designer TIM MITCHELL
Sound Designer GREGORY CLARKE
Composer MATTHEW SCOTT
Puppet designer and director TOBY OLIÉ
Choreographer LIZZI GEE
Goodnight Mr Tom
Duke of York’s Theatre
45 St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4BG
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes
11th December 2015 – 21st February 2016
UK TOUR LISTINGS:
23 – 27 February 2016
Manchester Opera House
3 Quay St, Manchester, Lancashire M3 3HP
1 – 5 March 2016
Milton Keynes Theatre
500 Marlborough Gate, Buckinghamshire MK9 3NZ
8 – 12 March 2016
Glasgow Theatre Royal
282 Hope St, Glasgow G2 3QA
15 – 19 March 2016
Birmingham New Alexandra Theatre
Suffolk Street Queensway, Birmingham, West Midlands B5 4DS
22 – 26 March 2016
Oxford New Theatre
George St, Oxford OX1 2AG
29 March – 2 April 2016
York Grand Opera House
Cumberland St, York YO1 9SW
5 – 9 April 2016
Little Green, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1QJ
12 – 16 April 2016
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
Exchange St, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP20 1UG
19 – 23 April 2016
Woking New Victoria Theatre
The Ambassadors, Peacocks Centre, Woking, Surrey GU21 6GQ
26 – 30 April 2016
Bath Theatre Royal
Theatre Royal Bath, Saw Cl, Bath BA1 1ET
3 – 7 May 2016
Cambridge Arts Theatre
6 St Edward’s Passage, Cambridge CB2 3PJ
10 – 14 May 2016
Cardiff New Theatre
Park Pl, Cardiff CF10 3LN
029 2087 8889
17 – 21 May 2016
Newcastle Theatre Royal
100 Grey St, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 6BR
0844 811 2121