Saturday, 21 December 2013

Good Night Mr Tom

Goodnight Mr Tom - Tower Theatre Company - Photography by David Sprecher
Goodnight Mr Tom
Photography by David Sprecher

‘Goodnight Mr Tom’ by the Tower Theatre Company at the Bridewell theatre is based on the book of the same name by Michelle Magorian (1947-). ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’ was her first novel, written as part of a creative writing course. It was published in 1981 and won the 1982 Guardian Prize for British children's books and has since been converted into a play, a film (starring John Thaw), and twice as a musical. This version was has music by Gary Carpenter (a local boy - born 1951 in Hackney, London). 

The story follows the life of a repressed and battered boy (William Beech) evacuated into the country and billeted with a reluctant Mr Thomas Oakley. Taken in hand by an irrepressible fellow evacuee (Zacharias Wrench – a bit of a mouthful), William finds friends and a talent for drawing. But just as he begins to come out of his shell, and Mr Tom finds his own reclusive heart coming alive, William’s mother sends for him.

Back in London we see just how harrowing the abuse of Will by his deranged mother is, and the plot continues to get darker. 

However his friends have not forgotten him. Mr Tom and Zach separately go to look for him and Mr Tom finds William locked in the cellar with his dead half sister who he had been trying to look after. Taken to hospital William has nightmares and is about to be committed when, during an emergency in the hospital, Mr Tom liberates him. However even now there is further horror in store for William and only at the very end do you feel that there is hope. 

‘Goodnight Mr Tom', is a complex and emotional play. The children Michael Gibson (William) and Isaac Insley (Zach) are very strong leads. Isaac plays for comedy, but with an undercurrent of strength, sympathy and empathy, while Michael runs a whole gamut of repressed and exuberant emotion. On his own emotional journey David Sellar, as Mr Tom, is tender and very believable, and Cathy McManamon (William’s mother) is frightening in her madness and loss of control.

The rest of the cast backed up these performances - the children were all great, having to swap roles from nasty bullies in London to more accepting locals in the countryside. See below for a list of the cast. The adult cast also had to change roles more than once. Although you knew they were the same actor, each role had its own characterisation and showed the actor’s skill in keeping them separate.

The stage was simply dressed leaving the cast free to act and draw the audience in. A nice touch was the use of the cast as scenery movers – while they were moving the props around they all chatted away in character so there were no gaps in the momentum of the play. 

The music and singing was enthusiastic and enhanced the depth of feeling evoked in the appreciative audience. The children’s dancing was fun and the ghostly Rachel at just the right level between being insipid and naff. 

‘Goodnight Mr Tom’ has been running this week (finishing Saturday). Be prepared with hankies...
Reviewed by Hilary Glover

Tom : David Sellar
William : Michael Gibson
Mrs. Beech : Cathy McManamon
Mr. Stelton : Richard Willis
Zach : Isaac Insley
Peggy Foulkes : Despina Sellar
Dr. Nancy Little : Harriet Watson
George : Aaron Tewelde
Carrie : Bessy Walmsley
Ginnie : Eliza Insley
Anthony Peters : Richard Kirby
Gwen Fletcher : Sarah Sharp
Annie Hartridge : Pam Gordon
Charlie Ruddles : Jonathan Norris
Ticket Man : Chris Falco
Cockney Woman : Kate Fearnley
Rachel : Helen Guthrie

Other Children : Tashi Dema, Mitko Falco, Charlotte Gordon, Ezra Roberts, Jada Jones, Noah Liddington, Louis Millar, Alexander Porter

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