Goodnight Mister Tom
Michelle Magorian, adapted by David Wood
Children's Touring Partnership
Civic Theatre, Darlington, and touring
Since its publication in 1981, Michelle Magorian's hugely successful first novel, Goodnight Mister Tom, has sold more than 1.2 million copies, been translated into thirteen languages and been adapted for television twice, most notably starring the late John Thaw in 1998. Now, in the year of its 30th anniversary, it is brought vividly to the stage.
David Wood's adaptation, for the newly established Children's Touring Partnership, is wonderful and the production values of the piece are second-to-none. The Olivier award-winning actor Oliver Ford Davies plays the eponymous elderly recluse who is forced to house an evacuee who has been billeted with him. Ford Davies brilliantly manages to convey both cantankerousness and tenderness with the greatest aplomb. He is blessed to share the stage with Oliver Tritton Wheeler as Will(iam) Beech, one of the most talented child actors I have ever seen.
The story, for the most part, is unashamedly sentimental, nostalgic and heart-warming - yet there are, occasionally, some dark and disturbing scenes that unflinchingly confront the horrors of child abuse and these are profoundly affecting. Likewise, the narrative also examines issues of mental health and religious hypocrisy. However, these subjects are tackled skilfully and in a manner that takes into account the sensibilities of its target audience - older children.
Robert Innes Hopkins has designed a set that is not only functional, but also ingeniously innovative. He is also to be commended for his authentic costume design. Indeed, creatively this production is ambitious and imaginative, incorporating the use of some impressively life-like puppets to portray Tom's Border collie dog, Sammy, and the woodland creatures.
Director Angus Jackson has kept the running time to around forty-five minutes for each of the two acts, presumably to avoid the possibility of the children becoming fidgety. However, he need not have concerned himself too much on this score, as the kids (who had turned up by the coach load) sat enthralled and behaved impeccably throughout.
The secret of Goodnight Mister Tom's success is actually revealed in the brochure: "This is not just children's theatre, this is a children's story for grownups, and a grown up story for children." Precisely.
Runs at Darlington Civic until Saturday 2 April 2011, before touring to Leeds, Coventry, Dartford, Kingston, Nottingham and Cardiff.
Ray Brown reviewed this production in Leeds
Reviewer: Steve Burbridge