Writer: David Wood
Director: Angus Jackson
Reviewer: Robert McMillan
Michelle Magorian’sGoodnight Mister Tomis easily one of the most recognisable stories in the UK. The 1982 winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award, one of the top 50 books on the BBC’s The Big Read survey and widely taught in schools up and down the country – it is difficult not to know of the book. Now, 35 years on since it was first published, The Chichester Festival Theatre’s production has reached Glasgow on its national tour and demonstrates how important the tale is to British culture.
Set in 1939, immediately before the beginning of WWII, William Beech (Freddy Hawkins), a young, timid recluse, is evacuated from London to the county of Dorset and into the care of Tom Oakley (David Troughton). Initially reluctant to even take the boy in, Tom eventually opens his heart to William as he tries to take care of him.
The ensemble provide good performances all around but there are two that notably stand out: Harrison Noble as the quirky Zach, provides the light-hearted humour from one of the most eccentric and comedic characters in the show and Melle Stewart as the ferociously manic Mrs Beech, plays the role so believably that it only requires a brief gesture to recognise the character instantly. The addition of puppetry, designed and directed by Toby Olié, is a nice touch that brings a family-friendly quality to the show, with puppeteer Elisa De Grey’s portrayal of Sammy the dog providing great chemistry between the puppet and the cast members.
Writer David Wood’s adaptation may preserve the essential parts of the novel, but the production hasfaults in the pacing: the first act jumps between fast and slow, seemingly rushed and confused, but ultimately losing the potential to develop other elements from the book. The most overwhelming theme appeared to be the contrast between city and country living, but there are so many more issues that could have been better represented. The second act picks up the slack but retains an awkward quality of dragging out dramatic pauses, an issue prominent throughout the show.
Robert Innes Hopkins should be proud of his imaginative set, thesimple approach is artistically simulating and beautifully created. The slow, lumbering reveal of the Beech household successfully creates the feeling of wartime depravation in London andthescattering of gravestones around the stage perfectly encapsulates the danger of the times.
With a sentimental score to accompany the action, the adaptation is a wonderfully emotive homage to Magorian’s work. It’s obvious to see that the company has created a show that is not only a loving tribute to the novel, but one that is accessible for all to enjoy.
Runs until12 March 2016