Goodnight Mister Tom

Theatre , Drama
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© Dan Tsantilis

Alex Taylor-McDowall (William) and David Troughton (Tom Oakley)

© Dan Tsantilis

Alex Taylor-McDowall (William) and Elisa de Grey (Puppeteer for Sammy the dog)

© Dan Tsantilis

Alex Taylor-McDowall (William) and Elisa de Grey (Puppeteer for Sammy the dog)

© Dan Tsantilis

Alex Taylor-McDowall (William) and Elisa de Grey (Puppeteer for Sammy the dog)

© Dan Tsantilis

Alex Taylor-McDowall (William) and Georgina Sutton (Miss Thorne)

© Dan Tsantilis

Hollie Taylor (Ginnie) and Martha Seignior (Carrie)

© Dan Tsantilis

Oliver Loades (Zach) Alex Taylor-McDowall (William) and ensemble

© Dan Tsantilis

Melle Stewart (Mrs Beech) and Alex Taylor-McDowall (William)

© Dan Tsantilis

David Troughton (Tom Oakley) and Elisa de Grey (Puppeteer for Sammy the dog)

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.

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Puking Pastille

I have to admit I was a little sceptical about how the producers of this play were going to get across the full impact of Michelle Magorian's heartfelt story, but after seeing it I can honestly say that I needn't have worried. Everything from the staging to the musical interludes to the superb acting from all involved made it a joy to watch.

Obviously there's much less time to portray the father-son relationship that develops between William and Mister Tom, but given this constraint, I thought the scriptwriter did really well. It made me laugh out loud several times (this was mainly due to the absolutely brilliant performance by the child playing Zach) and it made me cry. If you're a fan of the book, you'll love this adaptation.