Goodnight Mister Tom

New Alexandra Theatre

****

IT TAKES a special skill to create a play that appeals as much to children as it does to adults.

 David Wood’s clever stage adaptation of Michelle Margarian’s novel does exactly that.

Without ever patronising the younger audience members,mister tom top the storyline is simple enough to follow but also sufficiently interesting for the adults to enjoy on a different level.

There are certainly a host of child friendly ingredients here. Enchanting puppetry (from the team that brought us War Horse) and jolly songs undoubtedly help, but it’s Wood’s writing that delivers at such a high level and simply engages from start to finish.

The story of the World War II evacuees is, of course, well known and often told.

The ingredients are all there. Sadness; trepidation; humour; human tragedy; love – all perfect themes for a potentially winning drama and all ripe for exploration.

David Troughton as gruff elderly recluse Tom Oakley and Alex Taylor-McDowall as East End of London evacuee William Beech. Picture: Dan Tsantilis  

On top of that, it’s all true. It actually happened. Add a selection of well drawn characters to the mix and the result is a winning formula that is seldom short of captivating.

Robert Hopkins atmospheric set serves the piece well.

At times it is simple and practical – suggesting an environment rather than dominating it.

A graveyard, a local theatre, a cottage interior, a library – all clearly represented without threatening to overpower the action.

 It's clever too, as when the dingy wall of a London house transforms back into the raised performance area of the sunny, countryside location.

Central, of course, to the story is the developing relationship between the young evacuee, William Beech (Alex Taylor – McDowall) and his temporary guardian, Tom Oakley (a beautifully measured performance by David Troughton). With new surroundings comes new challenges. Adapting to a different way of life, making new friends and missing the family left behind. The events may have happened a long time ago but the themes remain very relevant today and here lies another reason for the plays wide ranging appeal.

A strong supporting cast show impressive versatility in a variety of multiple roles- Guy Lewis wearing the most hats as four different characters. Everyone one plays at least two roles in what is economic but effective casting.

Wood quite rightly doesn't hold back on the amount of dialogue given to his two central child actors. A difficult task for such young performers. Whilst the acting needs to be naturalistic and certainly not overly egged ‘theatre school’ style, it still needs to be of the period. Oliver Loades hits it just right as Zach, William’s somewhat exuberant soul mate. Bordering on camp, but genuinely kind and well meaning,

A tender and engaging telling of a beautifully woven story. A rare treat for young and old alike. It will make you smile. It may even make you cry. Runs until Sat. 19th March

Tom Roberts

16-03-16 

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