Britain is on the brink of war and the city children have been evacuated to the countryside. William Beech (Alex Taylor-McDowall) is sent to live with Tom Oakley (David Troughton), a reclusive widower who takes the boy in as his duty to his country. Tom soon realises that William needs a lot of love and care and takes him under his wing. William is happy with his new life and friends in the countryside, but even the countryside can’t escape the war.
Although I haven’t read the book, I understand from my companion that the show stays quite true to the novel written by Michelle Magorian. Indeed, Dave Wood, the playwright said, “I hate it when people change the story…. But as long as you are faithful to the spirit of the book it can work.”
As expected with a wartime show, some of the content seems quite dark for a children’s play. The play deals with loss, abuse and danger sensitively enough to avoid becoming too traumatic or upsetting for children. Equally, the content isn’t too childish that it can’t be enjoyed by adults too.
William’s rollercoaster ride between misery and happiness pulls the heartstrings. The play is full of sentimentality (there may not be a dry eye when William says “I love you, Mister Tom), but there are plenty of witty moments too. William’s friend Zach (Oliver Loades) really shines as the uplifting spirit of the group with his bright jumper and even brighter, over-the-top personality.
Despite being initially introduced as a grumpy old man, there is something instantly loveable about Troughton’s take on Mr Tom. Behind his bark, it is clear that he’s just as much in need of William’s love as William needs him. Taylor-McDowall is quite a sensational young actor to take on quite a difficult character. He really seems to understand William’s struggles and his outrage toward the end of the play is quite incredible.
Sammy is the loveable dog who is looked after by puppeteer Elisa de Grey. Of course, it’s no Warhorse but de Grey gets the perfect sense of the dog. He barks whimpers and quivers. His movements are very realistic and his breathing will make you forget that he’s just a puppet.
Regardless of age, Goodnight Mr Tom is perfect for everyone. It’s a really sweet story told by a fantastic cast. It’s one of those heart-warming shows that is perfect for the cold winter months. It’s a timeless classic to be enjoyed by the whole family.
Goodnight Mr Tom plays the Duke of York’s Theatre until 20 February 2016. For tickets and more information, see the ATG Tickets website.