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Goodnight Mister Tom: Theatre Royal: Theatre review

February 20, 2013

Goodnight-Mr-Tom1

Goodnight Mister Tom by David Wood

Set during the dark and dangerous days of the Second World War, Goodnight Mister Tom from the novel by Michelle Magorian follows sad William Beech, who is evacuated to the idyllic English countryside and builds a remarkable and moving friendship with the elderly recluse Tom Oakley. All seems perfect until William is devastatingly summoned by his mother back to London.

Upon his return his world is turned upside down by the things he’s learned and the new ways of thinking and behaviours his time away from London has taught him.

Winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and commended for the Carnegie Medal, this brand new touring production marks the 30th Anniversary of the publication of the novel.

This is a bitter sweet play about neglect, suffering, death, intergenerational support and trust and the ways in which, no matter what our age, we can still learn something new and expand our circle of friends and the introduction of a stranger, can not only be the catalyst for us to explore and experience new emotions and new ways of life, but can also bring new pain. Its central premise about death and life and the ways it both challenges and changes us reminded me of Dickens and of Oliver Twist in particular with its main themes of emotional and physical abuse on the young, both intentional and institutional.

tumblr_lglsmbHno81qehqlco1_500Oliver Ford Davies as Mister Tom brings great sensitivity to the role, showing us the suffering, the dignified pain and eventually the thaw of a man withdrawn from emotional distress with conviction. He also manages to inject a great deal of gentle comedy too using his soft Dorset accent to great effect and this humanised Mister Tom, from his first moments on stage he’s delightful and I was moved by his acting.

Ewan Harris (one of three young actors playing the role) as William was a delight, engaging and believable in his journey from withdrawn abuse to emotional security and William Price as the precocious Zach a crowd pleasing assured presence . Aoife McMahon as the emotionally troubled cruel mother is also worth a mention.

The quick change sets are ration book perfect, all honed muted waste-not want-not and back the action with just the right amount of wartime hint, the soundscapes subtle and ‚ÄėSammy‚Äô a life size dog puppet a delight to watch and was evocatively puppeted by Elisa De Grey.

tumblr_lglsr0StLJ1qehqlco1_500The first act is a settling in of plot and character, rather sweet and unthreatening until Williams abuse is uncovered where the second act starts a ruthless run of tragedy that hardly stops before the end. This plot momentum ensured the evening raced along.

A lot of folk were visibly moved (tears in the stalls! I ask you….) by the sadder parts of the play but this flinty hearted critic just rolled his eyes at the sentimentality on show, however this is as much a reflection on me as it is on the author.  This is a finely crafted piece of work aimed at all ages and patronising no one.

A fantastic evening of great family theatre with some strong performances from the supporting cast of actors and puppeteers, which is unafraid to look at some  real world problems, and is all the stronger for its tender honesty.

Until Saturday 23rd Febuary.

Theatre Royal

New Road

Brighton

For more info or to book tickets see the Theatre Royal website here:

 

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