Birmingham Stage Company returns with another live version of a children’s book, this time Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates series. Tom Gates: Live on Stage is a fun, surprisingly musical romp centred on Tom and his life.
Tom is your classic kid’s hero: a guitar-playing, biscuit-loving, master doodler with a moody older sister, a dad who drives a hot dog car, and eccentric grandparents. Throughout the show, we root for him as he embarks on his biggest mission yet: to get rid of his four frowny faces so he can go on The Best School Trip Ever.
It is uncanny how Neal Foster’s direction and Matthew Chase’s performance stays true to Tom’s youth, but somehow makes the show relatable to the adults in the room. Though I still don’t know exactly how old Tom is supposed to be, Chase’s portrayal gives a great nuance: mixing youthful naivety with mature responsibility. Foster’s vision invites us directly into Tom’s world, rather than sentencing us to watch through a patronising lens.
The set is the silent star of the show. Pichon’s artwork combined with Jackie Trousdale’s set and costume design, and Simon Wainwright’s video design keeps the fun and animated feel of a kids’ book, which can be notoriously hard to recreate in a live performance. The design excels at keeping the show bouncing with as much energy as its central characters. I took a special pleasure from the raincloud that marked Delia’s entrances and exits.
Mark Flannery’s composition is a delight, with a light-hearted yet dramatic score underpinning all the scene changes. Not to mention songs performed by the cast, exploring topics ranging from all kinds of biscuits to weirdo sisters; the importance of a good cuppa to the disappointment of school dinners. You know, all the things that really matter in life. The songs are tremendous fun and extremely catchy: if you don’t leave the theatre singing about chips, you’re truly missing out.
While all the aspects of the show contribute to its success, the thing that makes Tom Gates the triumph that it is, is the dedication to the original material. The actors attack their parts with verve and an energy befitting their target audience. There is a true sense of responsibility to the audience: a firm family show, aimed at kids but welcomes all. Tom Gates: Live on Stage is a genuinely fun and enjoyable show that invites all its audience to be kids for a couple of hours. It’s the perfect way to shed off responsibilities for an evening and think of biscuits, chocolate and doodles. Although I highly recommend that all adults are accompanied by at least one child.
Tom Gates: Live on Stage is touring until 23 November. For more information and tickets, visit the Birmingham Stage Company website.