Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

William and Tom

Garret Awre as William and Daniel Robert Beaton as Tom.

Pictures: Roy Palmer

Goodnight Mr Tom

Hall Green Little Theatre


Every so often so often along comes an amateur production which makes a mockery of the word amateur, and Goodnight Mr Tom does just that; it is a wonderful piece of theatre.

With a minimal set we open and close with Mr Tom, Tom Oakley, talking to his late wife, Rachel, who is buried in the churchyard next to his home.

It is September 1939. War is declared on Germany changing life for ever for the villagers of Little Weirwold, somewhere in the sticks in the West Country from the accents.

Tom, played by Daniel Robert Beaton, is a curmudgeonly old man, who keeps himself to himself, never smiles or says anything or interacts with anyone beyond what is necessary.

We have seen Beaton grow from a member of the Hall Green youth theatre into a seasoned actor and this is perhaps his finest performance to date, playing a man of twice his years with all the tired, slower movement of age as time takes its toll in ways only the elderly can appreciate.

It is a superb portrayal matched wonderfully by young Garret Awre as William Beech, the timid evacuee billeted with a reluctant Tom for the simple reason he lives next to the church, a stipulation of William’s mother, he had to stay with a religious person or someone living by a church.

Frightened William doesn’t want to be there in the first place and Tom only takes him in as he sees it as doing his bit, grudgingly, for the war effort. Hardly a match made in heaven . . . or anywhere else for that matter.

tom and grave

Tom shares his thoughts with his late wife, Rachel

Undernourished, bruised William, we quickly discover, has been terribly abused and beaten at home in London by a mother who is cruel, God fearing to the point even God would be wary of her, and, one suspects, when we meet her in the second act, suffering from severe mental problems.

William has had no friends, has been bullied, is afraid of being beaten for little or no reason, speaks little and avoids contact, making him, like Tom, a recluse in his own way. He arrives with only the thin clothes he is wearing, a bible and a belt in case he needs to be taught a lesson.

As the play develops we gradually find out more about Tom and William as they slowly open up to each other. We discover why Tom has become a recluse, shut himself off from the world, for 41 years, and we see, amid the strange rules and fire and brimstone warnings that William has been indoctrinated with by his mother, how there is a normal little boy trying to get out as he finds friends, something he has never had before, grows in confidence and, a major achievement, learns to read and write.

His main friend is Zach, a Jew, his religion only important in that it means he does not go to the village Christian church, which somehow links him to the devil’s work in William’s mother’s eyes.

This is another cracking performance, this time from Sammy Lees, who reminded me of a young Danny Kaye. Zach, from a theatrical family, is an over the top, arms waving like a windmill, human tornado sweeping through life with unbridled enthusiasm and optimism – taking the quiet, shy, nervous, timid William under his wing and dragging him, laughing and screaming with joy into his world of fun, theatre and boyish antics.  

And through it all is Sammy, Tom’s collie, a lifelike puppet created by Ceri Sian, who also gave us bird and squirrel puppets, and director Roy Palmer, who also designed the set and soundscape.

Sammy is just a puppet though and it needed skilled puppeteer Benjamin Hurd-Greenall to bring him magically to life. Within minutes the puppeteer was invisible and all you saw was Tom’s faithful dog.


Sammy Lees as the full of life Zach

There is good support from a fine ensemble case, notably Matt Ludlam, playing a variety of roles from ARP warden, to pilot, vicar and policeman, and, understandable, with his multiple personalities, a psychiatrist. Then Roger Warren weighed in as doctor and ticket inspector while Richard Woodward gave us an ARP warden and postmaster – he also played the incidental music from harpsichord baroque to hymns and wartime favourites between scenes in what is an episodic play.

We have Maisie-Leigh Jones, as the bullying then friendly child George Fletcher and mum Mrs Fletcher, played by Joan Wall, who helps out with hand me down clothes for William.

Lyla-Rose Hussain and Courtney Smith Reid play George’s friends Carrie and Ginnie, who, along with George and Zach, create a sort of island of calm and normality for William far away from the terrors of his life in London, and safe from the surrounding sea of war.

But war can never be completely forgotten and is brought home by the dreaded telegrams – the “we regret to inform you” faceless messages to announce a son, brother, father, husband, would not be coming home.

George’s brother was one such killed in action and village school teacher Annie Hartridge, played by Bobbi Blaza, newly married to her pilot husband and with a baby on the way was to be widowed by telegram within months.

After setting the bucolic scene in the first act the play takes a distinctly darker turn in the second when William is called back to London when his mother is supposedly ill and we find out the frightening reality of his home life with an unstable, unhinged mother in another fine performance, this time from a screaming, violent, fists a-flying mad as a hatter portrayal by Debbie Donnelly.

William’s Deptford homecoming is a horror story. Luckily, Tom decides to seek out William and travels to London to find him, even ending up jammed in a shelter during an air raid where he discovers Mrs Beech and her idea of sin are not complete strangers. He eventually finds William and rescues him from a life no one should ever have had to endure.

There is still more to overcome, and nightmares to endure for William, a disturbing scene, incidentally, and the hopes of an all living happy ever after ending had perhaps long gone. They were made even more distant by a double loss for William, but we end with a sort of happiness, a sort of understanding as William and Tom open the doors for each other to a life which at least approached normality..

Michelle Magoriam’s children’s novel was a multiple award winner and has been adapted for the stage by David Wood retaining the essential elements of the book.

The result is a production where you feel for and care about the characters, at times it is funny, at times sad, sometimes moving, with a glimpse of the horrors of war amid the indomitable survival and triumph of the human spirit. Theatre at its best. To 30-07-22.

Roger Clarke


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