Goodnight Mr Tom
West End Run
Phoenix Theatre, London
Tuesday 22nd January 2013
This heartwarming children's story, by Michelle Magorian, made its way into the hearts of the nation in both it's novel form and via the much-loved 1998 television adaptation starring John Thaw. The endearing tale follows the fate of an unfortunate young evacuee, William Beech, and his relationship with the grumpy old recluse he is sent to live with, Tom Oakley. Tom and William are a tonic for each other, and via a series of tragic events depicting the horrors of war at the home front, their relationship prevails.
This stage adaptation stars Oliver Ford Davies in the title role, who embodies the nuances of the secretive, complex character ideally. His seemingly cold initial welcome melts away to reveal the tender, loving father figure that William so desperately needs. His dog Sam is puppeteered with a scene-stealing reality- 'War Horse style' with a visible out-of-character puppeteer, designed by Toby Olié.
The children, William and his fellow-evacuee the effervescent Zach, are competent young actors, especially Zach who stole everyone's hearts with his generous, happy-go-lucky nature - there was many a sniffle in his final scene. I didn't understand the decision to have the other children played by adults - the mixture of both actual children and adult actors playing children, all in the same scene, made for a strange look and feel. That said, the supporting cast were strong, many of them doubling into multiple characters.
The set was compact and relatively sparse, but ingeniously designed to differentiate the many locations with fast, smooth changes in between. I was particularly impressed by the harrowing scenes in London, with such a stark contrast to the bright, quiet countryside of Tom's home.
A beautiful story, told here with all of the grace and heart required to do justice to the much-loved characters. About to tour the country, this production is a real treat.