Michelle Magorian’s classic children’s novel Goodnight Mister Tom has captured the hearts of people since its publication in 1981, along with the 1998 film adaptation. A couple of years ago, however, David Wood adapted it into a stage play and breathed new life into it. Now, in a new touring production backed by Fiery Angel, Ambassador Theatre Group, Fiery Dragons, CFT Enterprises and The Children’s Touring Partnership, Goodnight Mister Tom has set out once more to convey its moving tale to new audiences.
Goodnight Mister Tom is set during the Second World War. A young evacuee, William Beech (Freddy Hawkins in this performance) is sent away from London to the safety of the Dorset countryside to live with Tom Oakley (David Troughton), an old man grieving the loss of his wife a year earlier, and his dog Sammy (puppeteered by Elisa De Grey). There, he meets Zach (Harrison Noble), a young and larger-than-life Jewish boy, and the two become the best of friends, along with several other children who initially torment him. But it isn’t long before William’s new way of life is interrupted by the harsh, war-ravaged reality beyond the countryside…
What follows is a moving, heart-warming tale about morality and doing the right thing. There are some superb performances in this production from the whole company. Troughton in particular is excellent as the secretly tortured Tom Oakley, occasionally slackening off his upbeat, no-nonsense exterior to reveal a man struggling to cope with grief.
Noble also gives off an energetic and fun performance of Zach, representing almost in his entirety William’s lost childhood, cut short by his mentally unstable and strictly religious mother (Melle Stewart). But the real star of the show for me has to Oakley’s dog Sammy, beautifully puppeteered by De Grey. She convincingly captures the energy and spirit of a true companion, showing off just one of the marvellous methods of imaginative storytelling that’s exclusive to theatre as a performance medium.
In fact, puppetry looks to form part of director Angus Jackson’s vision for this production of the play. We meet other puppets as well as Sammy throughout, including soaring birds and cheeky squirrels that come to represent nature and William’s fascination with them. Having lived in the sheltered suburbs of London all his life, he won’t’ have had the chance to see these creatures – and in incorporating them into the production and making them part of the overall aesthetic, Jackson cogently brings the themes of innocence and excitement to the piece.
In addition to the fact that the performances and puppetry in Goodnight Mister Tom are absorbing and engaging, Robert Innes Hopkins has done a cracking job with the set design. A large wooden square takes up most of the performance space, with simple pieces of furniture like beds and chairs being swiftly brought in to create different environments, from the village hall to Oakley’s house. This wooden surface then cleverly lifts up to reveal William’s old London home when necessary. An urban palette of dark greys and browns creates William’s house inside, creating a clear contrast with Oakley’s warm and welcoming abode in Dorset.
Tim Mitchell’s lighting design also works harmoniously with Hopkins’ set design, and Gregory Clarke’s sound design incorporates everyday sounds, such as train whistles, with Matthew Scott’s bits of music that bind the piece together during scene transitions. Add all these things together and you’ve got a strong, well-considered scenography to firmly support the excellent performances.
Goodnight Mister Tom is a warm, engaging and moving piece of theatre. With great performances and a poignant message, it’s certainly a must see.
Goodnight Mister Tom is playing at the Grand Opera House York until 2 April and continues on tour. For more information and tickets, visit the AGT tickets website.
Photo: Dan Tsantilis