Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian has always appeared on the surface as a rather simplistic children’s story at first glance, however it is anything but and there are plenty of elements and themes that make up this heart-warming and incredibly human tale set on the brink of World War II. It explores friendship, loss, religion, child abuse, bullying and parenthood but through the eyes of a young, fragile London evacuee, settling into the countryside with a reclusive old man and the surrounding community to bring out the best in both of them. This faithful stage adaptation by David Wood has gained success since opening in 2011 in Chichester, having won an Olivier Award, and now is bought to life in a remarkable production by Union Theatre.
What is noticeably marvellous about this piece is that the sense of community really shines throughout, which makes it feel very much like an ensemble piece where everyone puts in an equal amount of effort, therefore this Solihull audience feels part of the Little Weirwold village among the characters. However, a special mention must go to the main leads such as the titular character Tom Oakley played by Mark Firmstone who carries warmth and caring to both William, Sammy and everyone around him. There is a very natural and paternal manner in which he brings to the character. Eoin Hodgkiss plays William (or Willie) Beech as a fragile, tortured soul who we see blossoming into a joyous and youthful character among the other children in the village. James Williams also gives a delightful performance as Zach, who is brimming with confidence and lighting up the stage whenever he enters through the central aisle on his bike. And finally, the other star of the show is Alexander Butler who operates and designed Tom’s lovable dog Sammy, a puppet that wouldn’t look out of place in a professional show such as War Horse.
This piece is wonderfully entertaining, containing everything you would want in a family show, such as classic War song numbers (with musical director John Gough accompanying on the piano), funny, scary and heart-breaking moments all thanks to this terrific company and the work of the director Victoria Ellery-Jones and the entire creative team. This story has become a timeless classic over the years and the transition to the stage in this production seems effortless.
Goodnight Mister Tom runs at the Solihull United Reformed Church until this Saturday.
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