David Troughton stars in Chichester Festival Theatre's Olivier award-winning production 'Goodnight Mister Tom'.
Now almost as grizzled as its eponymous grump-with-a-heart-of-gold protagonist, Chichester Festival Theatre’s ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’ is back in the West End for its umpteenth season.
However, this incarnation of David Wood’s adaptation of Michelle Magorian’s much-loved 1981 children’s book is the first without Oliver Ford Davies in the lead role, and the show misses his exquisitely creaky, compassionate vowels.
Fellow stage veteran David Troughton is a very respectable replacement, but he doesn’t quite have that twinkly-eyed, Father Christmassy thing that Ford Davies did. Without its old star, bits of ‘Tom’ feel tired, specifically the scenes set in the village where nervous young Willie is sent during the war, only to find himself billeted with old Tom.
There’s just something a little hackneyed about scenes in which simple country folk speak with a standard-issue rural twang and characters are thinner than the flat painted sets: shy Willie, improbably flamboyant Zach, local bully George. It is all lovely, of course, and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be touched by Willie and Tom’s redemption of each other; plus, Tom’s puppet dog Sammy is brilliant.
But the whole shebang does get drastically better when Willie returns to London and his mentally ill mother for a genuinely dark, harrowing sequence that shows Wood and Magorian are far from hidebound by sentiment. It’s a bracing wake-up, and though inevitably the play returns to its rural idyll, it does so with greater gravitas.