Goodnight Mister Tom is a play based on the book by Michelle Magorian. It tells the story of William, evacuated to the countryside during the second World War. He is taken in by the grumpy Mr Oakley who forms a bond with the introverted young boy, and is ultimately his saviour. William learns to adapt to the ways of the countryside, forging friendships and overcoming adversities along the way.
I was a little dubious as to how enjoyable I would find this play (seeing as my interest in history or child related matters are probably on a par with applying for car tax) but I endeavored to remain open minded. The initial moments of the opening scene reminded me of school plays about the war, in which the hits of Vera Lynn have been regurgitated by over zealous drama club pre-teens. I wasn’t overly convinced, but my attention was soon captured by the tentative relationship between Mr Oakley (Troughton) and William (Taylor-McDowall). I found myself drawn in by the gentle unfurling of William’s life back in London, combined with some well timed humour. I am not a huge fan of puppets but I have to commend Elisa De Grey for the lovable Sammy, who served an integral part throughout. Despite not necessarily always being a main feature in every scene I found my eyes drawn towards the dog, and was amazed by how lifelike and realistic he looked. I noticed he was often used as a focal point during set changes which worked well. There were some other puppets used during the production, and I felt they added a real depth and additional dimension to the scenes.
The turning point in the play for me was the introduction of the bombastic Zach (Loades), whose precocious yet charming nature had me grinning from ear to ear. The scene when they are all gathered around the radio is particularly memorable…as was his taste in knitwear! Some of his lines really did tickle me, and I developed a genuine affection towards his earnest little character. The entire cast worked extremely well together, and there were several set changes that required quite the team effort. The most impressive transition for me was probably the change from sleepy Dorset back to William’s impoverished home in London, where the more shocking scenes were played out. The abuse William endured and his mothers dillusional and irrational behaviour are sensitively handled, giving the audience a heart wrenching insight into his struggles at home. As someone encountering similar situations in my professional life I felt it was an accurate and realistic representation of maltreatment a child may endure. The play is written in such a way that the audience can become emotionally involved in William’s plight, but then laugh moments later due to the clever one liners and well rounded characters.
I have to give a special mention to the ‘drama teacher’, who made me chuckle with her enthusiastic supervision of William and Zach from the sidelines…reminiscent of many passionate volunteers I have encountered over the years. A smooth, slick production, with just the right amount of laughter (and potentially tears!) suitable for a varied audience. Just a little warning for parents…if your youngsters go to watch Goodnight Mister Tom you may be due a little “birds and the bees” chat!!
Goodnight Mister Tom is at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre for the remainder of this week. http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/goodnight-mister-tom/aylesbury-waterside-theatre/
With thanks to Lara for setting me up with the opportunity to write some reviews x