Goodnight Mr Tom

Date 13th July 2023
Society Ellesmere Port Musical Theatre Company
Venue Theatre Porto
Type of Production Play
Director Abigail Bradbury
Production Pam Watson
Lighting Derek Boseley
Stage Crew Bradley Bowckett & Carla Dymond
Written By David Wood

Report

Author: Joanne Rymer

Goodnight Mr Tom

EPMTC

13/07/23

The book Good Night Mister Tom won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize in 1982, the year after it was published. Why is the story called ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’. Author Michelle Magorian chose the title because she wanted to focus on both William and Mister Tom. Although William himself isn't named in the title, he says the phrase “goodnight, Mister Tom” in the book. It tells the story of young lad William ‘Willie’ Beech (Jack Cole) who is evacuated from London to the countryside of Little Weirwold during the Second World War, in doing so he escapes the clutches of his child-beating, religious zealot mother and is assigned to the care of the initially curmudgeonly Tom Oakley (Rob Turner), an old chap with his dog Sammy. Tom Oakley has largely shunned the outside world for over 40 years after the death of his wife and child. As the two ‘broken souls’ bond and mend a heartwarming story of love triumphing over much adversity unfolds.

Despite being only 8 years old, Jack Cole was able to pull of the frightened body language of a beaten boy, who then grows in confidence and becomes more at ease perfectly. What an exceptional performance, way beyond his years from this talented youngster. He won all our hearts the moment he arrived at Little Weirwold.

William has a great counterpart in the older Zach (Archie Sprowson), a dramatic boy with theatrical parents, who draws William out of his shell by sheer determination, his theatrical outbursts and tap dancing around the stage were hilarious. Great performance Archie. The two boys bounce off each other really well, and the moments they have together especially ‘do you need a man to make a baby’ amongst the most delightful to watch.  Mr Tom has to tell Will that Zach was killed in London during a bombing raid , a lovely moment when Dr Little (Darren Patrick Rush) hangs Will his striped jumper. Not a dry eye in the house.

But of course, then we have Tom Oakley. He may be a bit rough around the edges, but he is never a mean Scrooge like character, as he instantly recognises that William is a troubled soul who has never heard a kind word. Tom’s journey from a loner to a father is subtly played with a gentle warmth that never becomes soppy or too much in any way. You can genuinely see how Tom grows to care for this broken little boy, and how through caring for Will, he himself regains a part of his life he thought was lost forever that is having a family. This is a fine sensitive performance from Rob Turner:  many congratulations.

 The set is a fairly sparse one that works really well, with the help of a few props, changes from Mr Tom’s front room to his loft, to the village hall and so on. The full screen back projection is used to maximum affect, accurate World War 2 footage is used depicting the lead up and cruel consequences of war, an excellent addition, this is a talented company their use of the studio acting area was first class. Opening night lighting gremlins caused a few issues, spoke with the Director in the interval  to make her aware.

In contrast when in the second act the entire area goes dim to reveal the bleak set that is William’s home, a place with no light or colour, and not even a real bed. It’s a strong contrast to the peace and warmth of Tom’s place and you see William change physically as soon as he returns to Deptford and his abusive mother Mrs Beech (Charlie Ord). Tom decides to look for William as he has not heard from him and travels to London to find him ending up jammed in a shelter during an air raid. He eventually finds William and rescues him from an unimaginable tragic situation. What happens to William in the second act is at times very difficult to watch, young Jack Cole was incredible very impressive.

 Directed by Abigail Bradbury, this production’s biggest selling point is that it is enthusiastically put together with a huge sense of community and commitment. The atmosphere in Theatre Porto was chock full of love and good wishes before the play even began. In the foyer a table full of World War 11 memorabilia, traditional 1940s sweets in bags FOH in costume, truly setting the scene. Abigail knew exactly what she wanted from this production, good choice of cast, giving support to the young actors who responded splendidly. Adding to this such songs as ‘We’ll Meet Again’ that provide moments of poignance and levity through the course of the play. The characters frequently break into song. The famous ‘Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye’, popularised during WWII by Gracie Fields, is comfortably sentimental. I’ve still got it stuck in my head. However war can never be completely forgotten and is brought home by the dreaded telegrams “we regret to inform you” faceless messages to announce a son, brother, father, husband, would not be coming home. Two villagers, Mrs Millar (Rebecca Topping) and Mrs Hartridge (Charlie Ord) received such telegrams, losing a son and a husband.  Elsewhere air raid sirens, explosions and snatches of radio broadcasts, including Churchill’s ‘beaches’ speech, really transport the audience back to the spirit of wartime England. A time of hardship but when we all pulled together.

 This is a young amateur cast, so there’s not universal excellence, but more than enough stellar performances to really impress overall. First to mention are the young people in Team William, Georgia Bloomfield-Lunt, Megan Pritchard, Hollie Ross Maddock and Beth Toan as the village youngsters add much to the exuberance of the play. Praise must go to the Puppeteer Alex Dickinson who superbly brought Sammy the dog to life. Sammy is a near constant on-stage presence, providing gentle, life like humour throughout.  Well Done, Alex. The play is written with fifteen characters, the actors Charlie Ord, Chris Pacitti, Darren Patrick Rush, Mandy Helsby, Rebecca Topping, Sue Mears and Zach Waddington each played several roles admirably. Some great performances here, have to say I loved Glad, well done Mandy.

I really enjoyed chatting to the cast after the performance and especially meeting the younger members hearing how much they have enjoyed being in the show. Well done and a big thank you to the chaperones without whom the young cast members would not have been able to be involved. (Carol Nickson, Sue Mears, Deb Pritchard and Ian Deveraux-Roberts). The production team worked well together which resulted in sell out performances for the whole run, really well done

Despite what could be a rather bleak theme, the play is a heartwarming tale set in very serious times, with plenty of humour in the face of adversity.  Yet the hurt and loss is never far from the surface, and at the end of the play you feel a mixture of contentment for the two lead characters Will and Mr Tom who have found each other, and heartbroken for the loss experienced by several others.

EPMTC gave us a production where you feel for and care about the characters, at times it is funny, at times sad, sometimes moving, with a glimpse of the horrors of war amid the indomitable survival and triumph of the human spirit. Community theatre at its best

 

Thank you for inviting me, it was an experience not to have missed. Enjoy the summer break and I will see you all for Matilda.

 

Joanne Rymer

NODA

District 4