THEATRE REVIEW: Goodnight Mr Tom at Rotherham Civic Theatre

Rotherham Rep bring the wartime drama to the Civic

THE last time I saw Goodnight Mr Tom was when I watched the 1998 film featuring John Thaw as the eponymous Mr Tom. A hard act to follow.

Adapted by David Wood from Michelle Magorian’s novel, this is an ambitious show to stage, with much hanging on the two main characters — the countryman Tom Oakley and a troubled evacuee, William Beech, who is billeted with him in Dorset as the Second World War starts.

Rotherham Rep, however, made a very good fist of it, with Liz Cooper in the director’s chair.

Richard Wilshaw — whose day job is a police officer — is no stranger to treading the boards at the Civic.

He plays the slightly taciturn but kind widowed Mr Tom, who finds himself giving a home to William in the days leading up to the war, very sympathetically.

And Alex Evans is very impressive in the role of the London schoolboy who is transported from his London life to the village of Little Weirwold.

Some of the younger people were slightly hard to hear on occasion, but not so Alex. He came over loud and clear and played the boy with great confidence.

Under the kindly care of Mr Tom and as he slowly gets accepted by the village children, William gradually comes out of his shell — with help from Mr Tom’s dog, Sammy.

Mention must very definitely be made of Leah Keys who “plays” Sammy, acting as puppeteer in a way which recalls War Horse to mind.

The soundtrack of music with wartime songs such as Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, interspersed with air raid sirens, lends atmosphere to the play.

The action moves fairly slowly through the first act, with village life carrying on as the war gets underway.

William’s new life, under the love and care of Mr Tom, is brought to an abrupt end when he is summoned back to London by his mother, who has written to say that she is unwell.

The scenes in London contrast with the tranquillity of the countryside, with the pace picking up as the drama unfolds.

It would, of course, be a spoiler to give away the ending, but suffice to say that I had a tear in my eye as the curtain came down.

Rotherham Rep has done itself proud in bringing Goodnight Mr Tom to the stage, with the wartime setting particularly poignant given the current situation in Ukraine.


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