Theatre Review: Goodnight Mister Tom

It occurred to him that strength was quite different from toughness and that being vulnerable wasn’t quite the same as being weak.

Not many books manage to make me cry. In fact, very few things do. However, when I first read Goodnight Mister Tom the characters and their relationships tugged at my emotions and I sobbed. Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. Anyway, the point is that it became one of my favourite books and I read it at least once a year.

So, naturally, any stage production had a lot to live up to and I was curious how the story would be presented on stage.

David Wood’s adaptation of this beloved story is enchanting and appeals to both children and adults. The script sticks faithfully to the book for the most part, adding in music and songs to keep younger members of the audience focused on what is really quite a grown-up story. However, the decision to portray George (Clark Devlin) as so much of a bully and the use of the word ‘shitty’ seems slightly unnecessary in a production aimed mainly at children.

Although there are plenty of children in the production, the roles of the twins and George are played by adults. This actually works quite well, as it allows William and Zach (Sonny Kirby) to stand out. The children aren’t perfect, but they are very good and Sonny plays the role with energy and gusto – as befits the character – while Joe Reynolds captures the initial shyness and fear of William until he settles into his new life and we start to see him bloom.

David Troughton as Tom is wonderfully gruff and sad, but manages to keep a twinkle in his eye and over time he becomes quite endearing. Melle Stewart fooled me completely with the contrast between her roles of Annie Hartridge and Mrs Beech – I had no idea she was playing both until I looked at the programme!

Yet the stage belongs to Sammy (Elisa de Grey), Tom’s collie. Although a puppet, this was instantly forgotten and a real dog emerged, bounding about the stage and barking joyfully at absolutely everything.

Staging is well done, with a simple set that is full of surprises, particularly the transition from Little Weirwold to Deptford. The Beech household is reminisce of a prison and actually quite frightening, especially the scene where Tom and William are reunited under tragic circumstances.

In fact, there are so many emotional moments that it’s easy to forget that this is a children’s book. Michelle Magorian’s story blends the harsh realities of war with the struggles of family life, examining how people adapt under difficult circumstances.

The book is extremely powerful and the play is no less engaging, managing to be funny, poignant and educational. While it may not be the obvious choice for Christmas, children and adults alike will laugh and cry at this beautiful tale of love, loss and determination during the Second World War.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Originally written and reviewed for My Stage is the World.

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