A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!



Fiery Angel, The Ambassador Theatre Group, Fiery Dragons & The Children's Touring Partnership present the Chichester Festival Theatre Production



Goodnight Mister Tom



Tom Oakley (Oliver Ford Davies) and William Beech(Ewan Harris) in Goodnight Mister Tom

Photo Catherine Ashmore


A new play adapted by David Wood


From the classic novel by Michelle Magoria


Directed by Angus Jackson


Phoenix Theatre


22 Nov 2012 – 26 Jan 2013



Goodnight Mr Tom won the Guardian Fiction Prize for author Michelle Magorian in 1981. It is part of a trend in Children’s Literature towards the portrayal of realistic social ills - think Tracey Beaker as the bed and breakfast kid. William Beech, Willie, is billeted on Mr Tom Oakley at the out-set of WWII. Abused by his religious-fixated mother in Deptford, the action begins as he arrives in Dorset covered in bruises, under-nourished and traumatised. His only luggage is a bible and the strap his mother used to beat him with. When he first sees his bed he automatically assumes he is to sleep under it rather than in it.

Equally damaged by life is widower Tom Oakley, whose wife and son died forty-one years previously of Scarletina; he has remained a recluse ever since. The unlikely pairing offer each other a spiritual balm - Mr Tom teaches William to read and provides him with a stable home, while William’s vulnerabilityand rehabilitation give Tom’s life renewed purpose. We see them against the prevailing back-drop of Little Weirworld’s community: digging for victory, coping with the influx of evacuees and rallying round as the vagaries of war impact upon it.

Yet ‘the play’ is at the centre of this healing process in David Wood’s adaptation, not surprisingly so - and it features two childhood hardy perennials, Wind in the Willows and Peter Pan. These suggest idyllic times and lands for the forever young, and this, together with the production’s period feel, will appeal to audiences at either end of the age spectrum. Yet there is something missing. The Just William japes of fellow evacuee Zach in hisminor theatricals, rainbow jumper and spirited joie de vivre, and Robert Innes Hopkins’ nostalgic designs, are able to overwhelm the darker purlieus of Deptford with its air raids, peeling wall-paper and boarded windows. Equally, the complex character of Mrs Beech is reduced in dramatic impact, as this is largely reported, not shown. 

Yet there are some clever touches in Angus Jackson’s direction which do surprise and tug at the heartstrings: the Rochdale Linnet, Gracie Fields’ ‘Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye, serves as a musical motif for all the leavings in the play - keep a hankie close by. Sammy the Collie dog, guided by puppeteer Elisa De Grey, faithful companion to the lonely Oakley and damaged William, is delightful. While Zach’s cheesy re-inventions of Shakespeare, ‘to be or not to be that is the indigestion,’ are a poignant counterpoint to when he’s summoned back to London.

Oliver Ford Davies’ natural lugubrious style fits Mr Tom, as reluctant parent well. White haired, dressed in corduroys and sweater, he ambles around the stage and looks truly lost when he ventures to London in search of William. On the day I saw the production, the parts of William and Zach were taken by a believable, waif-like Ewan Harris and exuberant William Price; the latter does a particularly impressive hoofer-routine and is every inch the son of a ‘theatrical.’ The ensemble cast do a first rate job in their various roles, but I especially enjoyed Georgina Sutton’s Miss Thorne, director-extraordinaire, a combination of Lynda Snell from The Archers and the no-nonsense-Lix from the BBC’s The Hour.

It’s left to Mr Tom at the end to offer some comfort:  ‘better to accept than pretend they never existed’ he says of the dead, whatever their passing. Strictly speaking, the subject matter of Goodnight Mr Tom is not obvious Christmas Fare. Yet the triumph of human spirit when shown kindness and a little warmth, is...


Photo Catherine Ashmore


Tickets from £29.50, Monday – Saturday 7.30pm, weekly Matinees vary
Phoenix Theatre
Charing Cross Road
London WC2H 0JP
Box Office:  0844 871 7629
28 January – 2 February 2013
Manchester Opera House
0844 272 0807
4 February – 9 February 2013
Sunderland Empire
0844 847 2499
11 February – 16 February 2013
Milton Keynes Theatre
0870 060 6652
18 February – 23 February 2013
Brighton Theatre Royal
0844 871 7627
25 February – 2 March 2013
York Grand Opera House
0844 847 2322
4 March – 9 March 2013
Woking New Victoria Theatre
0844 871 7645
11 March – 16 March 2013
Southend Palace Theatre
01702 351135
25 March – 30 March 2013
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
0844 871 7627
1 April – 6 April 2013
Glasgow Kings Theatre
0844 871 7627
Tickets on sale 6 September 2012
8 April – 13 April 2013
Birmingham Alexandra
0844 871 3011

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