If you know any kids who dislike panto then take them to see Goodnight Mister Tom, David Wood’s stage adaptation of Michelle Magorian’s modern classic.

It’s a charming wartime tale, made famous by the TV version 15 years ago. William Beech, is a young boy who escapes temporarily from his abusing, bible-thumping mum in Deptford when he is evacuated to leafy Dorset. He is billeted with Tom, an elderly widower bringing with him a bible and a belt to be used in the case of misdemeanours.  

Tom realises after spotting the boy’s bruises that the belt has been used before.  He is also malnourished and illiterate. The old man lost his baby son forty years before when his wife died giving birth and William brings out his fatherly instinct, enabling him to give him the love and interest he’s never known.

Oliver Ford-Davies brings Tom to life as he, too, benefits from the relationship. No facet of his gentle, caring nature is missed in his touching performance. On press night, Ewan Harris is William and another young performer, William Price, extrovertly plays his new found friend, Zach.

There is a troubling scene when William is returned to his ill mother (Aoife McMahon) who now has a baby girl, father unknown. The second half is moving enough to release the odd tear.

Children will love Sammy, Tom’s puppet sheepdog, and the happy ending makes the play enjoyable for adults, too. Goodnight Mister Tom is a must-see.

- Julia Taylor