There is a famous quotation from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that begins: “If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.” Those words should be embossed on the front of the programme of Goodnight Mister Tom, David Wood’s tearjerker play adapted from Michelle Magorian’s novel and currently at Woking’s New Victoria theatre.
It charts the experience of a second world war evacuee, William Beech, who comes from a dysfunctional family in the east end of London. He is billeted at the Dorset home of an embittered recluse, Tom Oakley, whose only companion since his wife died many years before in childbirth has been his faithful dog. William is initially bewildered by Tom’s ill ease at having a young boy in his life, teased by the children in the village, and chided for his illiteracy. The play charts the developing relationship between William and Tom and the villagers.
Aided by Zach, who befriends William and helps him emerge from his shell, Tom discovers that the young Londoner has hidden talents in drawing and acting. But then William is called back to London by his mother, and, as he tries to make sense of her odd behaviour we see the war taking its toll. Fortunately for William, Tom journeys from the country to seek him out and in conclusion, we see just how far the bond between the two of them has grown. This is a heart-warming production; a clever minimalist staging converts as the story requires, and a mainly young cast give full support to the leading characters. But special plaudits to David Troughton as Tom, and, on the first night, Freddy Hawkins as William and Harrison Noble as Zach. And, for me, a special biscuit for Sammy, the dog!
[Dermot Hoare 20 April 2016]
Goodnight Mister Tom is showing at the New Victoria theatre, Woking from Wednesday 20 April to Saturday 23 April at 7pm, with additional matinees on Thursday 21 April (1.30pm) and Saturday 23 April (2.30pm).