Review: Goodnight Mister Tom
Evan Huntley-Robertson as William and cast - photo by Eliza Wilmo
Tom - James Sampson
William - Evan Huntley-Robertson
Zach - Felix Hepburn
George - Edward Flynn-Haddon
Sammy - Bradley Riches
Mrs Beech - Allie Aylott
Mrs Hartridge/ Nurse - Charlotte Gamble
Miss Miller/ Glad - Cassie Cooper
Thorne - Millie Brolly
Mrs Fletcher/ Social worker - Taylor Smith-Chandler
Mr Miller/ ARP Warden - Oliver Parsons
Charlie - Billy Boreham
Little/ Ticket collector - Kai Davies
Stelton - William Kettle
Vicar - Alex Siminov
Mr Hartridge/ Policeman - Charlie Bignall
Carrie - Valentina Cervesi
Ginne - Elena Cervesi
Billeting officer - Cara McTiernan
Radio voice/ Sister - Rachael Kelly
One of the most uplifting stories ever written, Michelle Magorian's stunning Goodnight Mister Tom is brought gloriously to life in this stage adaptation by David Wood - the UK's 'National Children's Dramatist' (The Times).
Set during the dark and dangerous build-up to the Second World War, Goodnight Mister Tom follows sad young William Beech, who is evacuated to the idyllic English countryside and builds a remarkable and moving friendship with the elderly recluse Tom Oakley.
All seems perfect until William is devastatingly summoned by his mother back to London.
Goodnight Mister Tom is a tale of two broken souls at very different ends of the age scale that celebrates the value of love and proves that friendship knows no barriers.
Note: the cast rotates with different ensembles performing - the cast listed is the one which performed on press night when we reviewed the show.
Adapted by eminent children's playwright David Wood from the book by Michelle Magorian, Goodnight Mister Tom is an emotional and moving story told here by students from The British Theatre Academy, all under the age of 23.
If you're unfamiliar with the BTA's approach to their ambitious public performances, you will no doubt be impressed to know that several casts present BTA shows over the course of each run - the cast given above was the one I saw on press night.
So, if you go along to see Goodnight Misterr Tom, you may well see a different cast performing.
That strategy enables far more young actors to get their debut in a professional theatre - it's one of the hugely commendable ways that BTA provide opportunities for a large number of young people to tread the boards at big-name theatres.
In Goodnight Mister Tom the ages of the characters range from young children right through to people in their 60s - like the lead role of Tom Oakley.
Director Jo Kirkland sensibly resists the temptation to visibly age her young actors through make-up, for example, relying on acting abilities alone to define and describe the characters.
And they don't disappoint.
Evan Huntley-Robertson (William) and James Sampson (Tom) - photo by Eliza Wilmo
William Beech is a vulnerable and withdrawn young boy, an evacuee from London in 1939, just before the start of the Second World War.
He fetches-up in a rural village and finds himself in the care of the reclusive and rather dour, but kindly and caring Tom Oakley.
With his body covered in bruises from severe beatings he's experienced back at his home, William finds himself alone living with a man he's never met before and also having to endure the taunts of the native village children.
But with attentive care from Mister Tom and others in the village, William at last finds some peace and respite from the harsh realities of life, though the second part of the play sees further troubles in store.
Admirable though it is in most respects, Southwark Playhouse's smaller auditorium, The Little, makes Jo Kirkland's production feel just a little cramped.
A slightly larger venue might have provided more breathing space, even if this poignant piece requires some intimate moments.
Jo Kirkland, though, certainly makes good use of the acting area available and exhorts good work right across the board from her well-disciplined and talented cast who demonstrate admirable professionality and commitment.
In the lead as William Beech, Evan Huntley-Robertson finds just the right tone of bewilderment for his withdrawn and brutalised evacuee, beaten mercilessly at the hands of his mentally ill and fanatical mother.
James Sampson ably convinces as the retiring and blunt Tom Oakley, the ageing widower still coping with the tragic loss of his wife and child.
Bradley Riches as Sammy - photo by Eliza Wilmot
Bradley Riches also impresses, bringing to life the highly realistic looking sheepdog, Sammy.
And Felix Hepburn finds himself in the enviable position of providing the lion's share of humour in the play.
His excellent, well-timed and enjoyable portrayal of Zach - a precocious, but immensely likeable young boy whose actor parents have bequeathed him a thespian's talent for entertaining - almost steals the show, providing highly comedic relief from the many sad aspects of the story.
Now I almost always have a severe allergic reaction to sentimentality, and there is rather more than a hint of it in Goodnight Mister Tom.
Nevertheless, this is one of those dramatic rarities that, in spite of the obvious sentiment, is an enormously compelling and irresistible story, even for the hard-hearted and cynical, like me.
What Goodnight Mister Tom reminds us of is that children are often the innocent victims of war - a fact not yet eradicated from our planet as we continually discover from news reports about tragic wars currently raging.
But it also reminds us that human beings, in spite of their foibles and frequent brutality, can also be sensitive, caring and kindly - even those who seem least able to provide those qualities.
If you've not experienced this play before, it is (as I've said before) an endearing, heartwarming, touching, tender and ultimately uplifting play, well-produced here by The British Theatre Academy.
Be warned, though, you'll need to go armed with your tissues and hankies!
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Southwark Playhouse
Our show listing for Goodnight Mister Tom
Read our reviews' policy