Goodnight Mister Tom was one of my favourite books when I was young. I kept a copy by my bedside for weeks and remember being completely taken over by it; reading and rereading, not wanting to leave its vivid characters.
Goodnight Mister Tom
John Cooper Studio, 41 Monkgate, York
Till Sun Mar 24
Pick Me Up’s stage production (directed by Robert Readman) gave me the same immersive experience.
Set at the brink of the Second World War, perhaps our time of greatest uncertainty and threat, Michelle Magorian ultimately presents a world of nurturing warmth.
The atmosphere was cast immediately: I was met at the stage door by A.R.P Warden Charlie, (Andrew Roberts) who showed by to my seat.
Propaganda posters on all sides told housewives to be “Up and At ‘Em!” and reminded everyone to welcome evacuees: “Others sent them away – Give them a place to stay”.
The staging was not perfect (children entered on all sides and the gaps between seats were not quite wide enough for them to run though easily; William’s bed was slightly too big for its space) but this fitted the make-do and survive ethos of the time.
There were train whistles and smoke and crocodiles of children moving through the village.
The last evacuee, William Beach ‘has’ to stay with reclusive, elderly Tom Oakley (however reluctant he may be to take him in) as William’s mother has insisted he is looked after by a churchgoer and Mr Oakley lives “right next to the church.”
‘Mister Tom’ (played by Craig Kirby) is a lot less gruff than I remembered. Apart from telling his charge as he arrives to “stand on a chair, go on” to reach his coat peg and “take your shoes off, you’re not going anywhere” there is little of the imposed-upon, angry figure at the start of the book.
Almost immediately Tom offers to teach William to read, and calls on the vicar’s wife to find him new boots. This didn’t allow for much character development, but presented Tom as a steady caring influence from the start.
William was played with great composure by 10-year-old Jack Hambleton. He seemed completely at ease in his role, slowly changing from an abused, cowed boy into an assertive young man who will has no difficulty in asserting himself before the adult authorities who threaten, near the end, to take him away from his now beloved home.
Mention must go to 12-year-old Zac Stewart, who plays William’s best friend Zach Bright. Eccentrically articulate and fearful of no one, Zach lit up the stage.
Sounding across between Bertie Wooster and Mr Toad (whom he plays in the school pageant) and shouting “callloo callay!” as he hurtles past everyone on his boneshaker bike, he was Zach – quite literally.
Other fine performances include a deeply unhinged Mrs Beech, (Juliet Waters), the unfailingly cheerful drama teacher Mrs Fletcher (Helen Todd) and the quietly attentive, quietly smoking Dr Little (James Coldrick). This production is all about authentic details.
All the evacuee children worked well together and I was particularly impressed by their singing (their authentic 1940s playground taunts and tunes as well as the haunting Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye, as they heave London on the train.)
The music was excellent throughout: credit to Juliet waters and Sam Johnson, whose wartime tunes connected the scenes. Vera Lynn (mentioned in the show) would have been proud.
All the resolutions fitted the characters, but of course I won’t give away the ending, except to say It was superbly done. Thank you, you made a very special part of my childhood come alive.