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Goodnight Mister Tom at Southwark Theatre | Review

Goodnight Mr Tom Bradley Riches as Sammy Photo Eliza Wilmot
Goodnight Mr Tom Bradley Riches as Sammy – Photo Eliza Wilmot

Set against a backdrop of the Second World War, Goodnight Mister Tom is the much-loved story of a young evacuee and a seemingly soulless old man coming together in a tale of heart-warming strength and optimism.

From the outset, Goodnight Mister Tom seems an odd choice for a youth production, given the sometimes shockingly mature nature of its content and its reliance on inter-generational character dynamics, but The British Theatre Academy handles the shows content with care and respect throughout. James Sampson’s depiction of the cold Mister Tom is measured and detached. Despite being in his teens, the young actor manages to avoid a caricature representation of the old man in favour of a more subtle approach. His eyes manage to say all the words he’s too scared to speak and his face holds the tragedy of his past. It’s no mean feat for a performer of his age. He’s perfectly complemented by the obvious vulnerability in Evan Huntley-Robertson’s William. Surely a performer to watch out for, Evan conjures up genuine on-stage emotion and is an instantly likeable presence. Felix Hepburn brings joy to the production as the wonderfully irritating Zach, William’s new evacuee friend who just won’t shut up. His outlandish performance provides some much-needed respite from the doom and gloom of this Wartime story. Also worth mentioning is Allie Aylott as Mrs Beech. Undeniably the most sinister of all the characters, it could easily come off as a pantomime performance and destroy any hard work put in up to that point. Allie gives no such performance. From the second she walks on stage, she commands the space with a quietly deranged edge to every word she speaks. The ensemble pepper the production with lovely performances throughout and highlight the fragility of youth in a time of such great hardship.

Although the cast performs with gusto, David Wood’s adaptation of the novel by Michelle Magorian is a little less nuanced. At times it’s all too brisk and fleeting, jumping from one location to the next, never giving the characters time to breathe. Luckily this is offset by a versatile design from PJ McEvoy. A wall filled with paintings of village locations helps to quickly ground you in the current scene while reflecting the artistic themes within the piece. Direction from Jo Kirkland is simple but effective, giving the young cast the best opportunities to show their acting without being bogged down with too much unnecessarily complex stage wizardry. This simplicity is brushed off for a brief moment in the second act, however, where the casting team together to depict one of William’s P.T.S ridden nightmares. This is a genuinely affecting moment that’s made even more intense by the contrast in style from the rest of the piece.

Goodnight Mister - Photo by Eliza Wilmot
Goodnight Mister – Photo by Eliza Wilmot

The British Theatre Academy have done a great job with a tricky piece and ensure that this classic story will be loved by yet more audiences as they continue their run. It’s true that the production is inevitably missing some of the cross-generational depth that’s so important to the story, but it’s a testament to the young performers that they manage to evoke real emotion, creating a genuinely poignant evening at the theatre.

4 stars

Review by Dan Reeves

One of the most uplifting stories ever written, Michelle Magorian’s stunning Goodnight Mister Tom is brought gloriously to life in this stage adaptation by David Wood – the UK’s ‘National Children’s Dramatist’ (The Times). Set during the dark and dangerous build-up to the Second World War, Goodnight Mister Tom follows sad young William Beech, who is evacuated to the idyllic English countryside and builds a remarkable and moving friendship with the elderly recluse Tom Oakley. All seems perfect until William is devastatingly summoned by his mother back to London. Goodnight Mister Tom is a tale of two broken souls at very different ends of the age scale that celebrates the value of love and proves that friendship knows no barriers. This is a youth production.

Cast: Allie Aylott, Charlie Bignall, Kai Davies, Reuben Dixon, Chantelle Duru, Cian Fenton, Felix Hepburn, Evan Huntley-Robertson, Rufus Kampa, William Kettle, Lewis Ledlie, Alice Mann, Charlie McDowell, Eoin McKenna, Naomi Ormonde, Oliver Parsons, Luca Partridge, Ethan Quinn, James Sampson, Dominic Shah, Taylor Smith-Chandler and Faye Wheeler.

Director – Jo Kirkland
Assistant Director – Marcus Marsh & Julie Thomas
Set & Costume Designer – PJ McEvoy
Lighting Designer – Gregory Jordan
Sound Designer – Aaron Barker
Wardrobe – Linda Rees & Tessa Stephens
Set Construction – Greg Wilmot
Production Photographer – Eliza Wilmot

British Theatre Academy presents
Goodnight
Mister Tom
by David Wood, based on the novel by Michelle Magorian
25 JUL – 25 AUG 2018
https://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

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