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Goodnight Mr Tom

by on 7 June 2019

Poignant, Gentle, Moving

Goodnight Mr Tom

by David Wood, adapted from the story by Michelle Magorian

Edmundians at the Cheray Hall, Whitton until 8th June

Review by Eleanor Lewis

Goodnight Mr Tom, written in 1981 by Michelle Magorian and adapted for the stage by David Wood is destined to become a children’s classic.  100 years from now when WW2 is pure history and no longer an actual memory for anyone, there will still be children reading it, fascinated by what passed for normal with 1940s children.

TomPromo2

Edmundian Players’ performances of Goodnight Mr Tom took place in the Cheray Hall behind St Edmund’s Church in Whitton. This hall, the programme tells me, is the same hall used as a temporary place of worship after a German bomb hit the original church in October 1941. You couldn’t get much more of an appropriate setting than that.

In this small village hall, a large cast backed up by a similarly large team of props and scenery designers and builders, managed to create and populate both Central London in the midst of the Blitz, and the relative peace and quiet of the West Country. Amateur productions always involve people who are doing ‘real’ jobs the rest of the time. Clearly a lot of work had gone into this production and credit must be given to everyone involved in it

TomPromo1Goodnight Mr Tom is not the easiest of stories, despite being aimed at children, as the childhood experiences of William Beech, until he meets Tom Oakley, are far from ordinary and definitely not pleasant. Accordingly, playing the two central characters is a challenge: the general ‘thawing’ of both the older man and the terrified child must be handled slowly and with care. Matt Power as Tom Oakley was perfectly cast. His performance was poignant, gentle and witty without ever slipping into sentimentality. Oakley is also on stage most of the time, with the most to do. Matt Power was line perfect and never out of character.

Tom Melia as William Beech gave a suitably hesitant and guarded performance, moving gradually into a more relaxed, happy boy, as he began to trust the man who had taken him in. His critical moment (actually one of his critical moments) when he accepts the baby Mrs Hartridge hands him to hold, after his appalling experiences with his mother, was suitably moving.

Aside from the two central characters the ensemble cast worked well together and were perfectly costumed in 1940s outfits. Directors Jackie Howting and Terry Bedell had made good use of the space, allowing entrances to be made from either side of the stage and from the back of the hall which produced an inclusive atmosphere. The scene in which a meeting took place and several characters sat at the front of the audience was particularly effective.

There were several particularly well-judged, smaller character roles: Theresa McCulloch as the Billeting Officer and Mrs Fletcher managed to be both brisk and endearing; Terry Bedell as the Doctor was a suitably reassuring presence, and Paula Young by contrast, as the damaged and dangerous Mrs Beech was an appropriately unnerving presence on stage.

Ellen Smith, playing the exuberant Zach was a treat and quite an achievement as Ms Smith was convincing as a boy despite occasional hair issues, and the sudden, terrible loss of the character was as shocking as it was intended to be because Smith had created such an appealing and eccentric child.   The other children: Kathryn Bedell, Mary McGrath and Charlie McMaster were equally strong, delivering their lines naturally and unselfconsciously.

Special mention must, of course go to Becky Halden for handling the puppet dog, Sammy. The objective with a puppet on stage is always to focus audience attention on the puppet and not the handler and Ms Halden achieved this to great effect.

The action as a whole would have benefited from quicker scene changes, some were quite lengthy and this interrupted the pace of the whole piece which was in fact moving quite well.  I wondered too at the treatment of the death of Zach which would arguably have been better handled indirectly i.e. if his death had simply been reported to other characters who were then required to react to the information, but I suspect this is an adaptation issue rather than anything to do with the performance.

Edmundian Players should be pleased with their treatment of this marvellous story, the audience on Friday night was totally engaged with what they saw and rightly so as the commitment of everyone on stage produced a great evening’s entertainment.

Eleanor Lewis
June 2019

Photography by Devizine and Jessica Young

From → Drama, Reviews

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