“Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye,” is the war-time song that opens Goodnight Mister Tom at the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End. It draws the audience in to the story right from the start. David Wood’s adaptation of Michelle Magorian’s children’s classic is always a tear-jerker but with war, God and abuse of children so present in the public mind this Christmas, this one is particularly evocative. The song is a theme that occurs throughout, the pure treble voices of the boy performers bringing an innocence to loss and love against a background of war.
Angus Jackson, the director, has worked his magic once again. The play ran originally at Chichester, then did a West End run, succeeding Blood Brothers at the Phoenix, and touring. This is its third run to be followed by a tour and it shows every sign of being an enduring classic. Each time the show stays roughly the same, but small changes, such as in costume and staging, finesse it just that little bit further towards perfection. The Duke of York’s Theatre is a beautifully warm and intimate setting for this special play.
We found it particularly poignant because our son Arthur Franks played William Beech in the last run, in the West End and on tour. Another former William, Jamie Goldberg, came as well. Child licensing laws mean as many as three or four children share professional stage roles in this country. Freddy Hawkins, Joe Reynolds and Alex Taylor-McDowall have been cast this time in the role of William, and Sonny Kirby, Oliver Loades and Harrison Noble as Zach. It is an enormous privilege and life-changing for any child to find themselves in such a role. It is also quite different watching a professional show when you have a young child performing in it, to when you watch it as a normal theatregoer. I was able to appreciate in a more objective sense just how powerful this production is.
The William we saw, Alex Taylor-McDowall, delivers a superbly nuanced performance. He progresses credibly from an abused, beaten, timid and illiterate boy to a confident, resourceful child with a remarkable gift for drawing.
The man who brings this about is Tom Oakley, after William is placed with him in the country as a refugee from London. David Troughton is simply outstanding as Mister Tom. His strong, rich performance centres the story around the heartbreak of a man who shut himself off from life and love after he lost his young wife and baby son through childbirth. Just as Oakley’s love transforms William Beech, the boy’s growing trust and dependency on him breaks through Oakley’s shell with unbearably touching consequences.
The part of the irrepressible tap-dancing Zach is an absolute gift for the right boy and Oliver Loades made the most of it. He sparkled on the stage with a brilliant zest for life that had us laughing and crying at once. He had good comic timing in the superbly written scene about how babies are made. This one always reduces audiences to helpless laughter, especially the raucous teen school audiences in the provinces when it goes on tour. Surely the hardest thing William and Zach have to do in the entire play is keep a straight face while 1,000 giggly teens are collapsing in hysterics in front of them.
The puppet dog Sammy is once again a show-stealer. Puppeteer Elisa de Grey has returned and she does a brilliant sheepdog to the extent we forget she is there at all, so convincing are the growls, whimpers and generally doggy behaviour of this lifelike creature. The adults who play the other children double up in several roles. Clark Devlin as George was particularly strong as the bully who became a friend and who suffered his own grief. We loved Hollie Taylor and Martha Seignior as Ginnie and Carrie, characters into which the author has packed so much to do with the emerging feminism and the importance of education of the war years. A special mention also for stalwart Georgina Sutton in the role of Miss Thorne, such a model of the acting craft.
The theme of cruelty licensed by falsely-understood religion is one thread around which the story hangs. Death is everywhere, yet the play hums with life and love. Arthur in particular was impressed. “It was a spectacular performance by the whole cast. It brought back many moments of nostalgia. I’m so glad I saw it again.”
Review by Ruth Gledhill
Goodnight Mr Tom
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