Goodnight Mr Tom is a stage play based on Michelle Magorian’s poignant and popular novel of the same name. Miss Magorian’s novel, which has been adapted for stage by David Wood, tells the tale of World War II evacuee, William Beech. William is evacuated to Devon and is foisted upon the curmudgeonly widower, Tom Oakley. The main thrust of the story is the development of a father and son relationship between William and “Mr Tom”.
John Thaw’s superb film performance as Mr Tom is regarded by many as definitive. Watching Oliver Ford Davies’ performance as Mr Tom, at The King's Theatre, Glasgow, was the equivalent of watching an actor attempting to play John Thaw playing Mr Tom. I longed for Ford Davies to break free and bring his own interpretation to the performance but instead he appeared to be playing the part by rote.
Alas, throughout the performance strong storytelling and stage direction were lacking. This resulted in the play descending into a series of abrupt set pieces which rendered a great disservice to Magorian’s troubling but ultimately heart-warming story. In the novel the most shocking and heart-wrenching aspect of William’s plight comes to light when he is rescued from his Mother’s London home. William is found bound and bent in a cramped cupboard clutching the infant body of his dead sister. This is a highly charged and emotive chapter of the book (and film) but on stage the scene was rushed and treated with such a lack of delicacy that all dramatic potential was lost.
The ensemble scenes in which the cast gather in an Anderson shelter or a church hall, to sing war tunes and chat, were the scenes which worked best. It was one of these scenes which provided the loudest laughter of the evening. William’s best friend Zach, played by William Price, brought the theatre to life with his over the top and highly amusing rendition of Irving Berlin’s splendid song , "Let’s Face the Music and Dance." William Price should be praised for possessing the skill and ability to hold an audience in his grasp.
The star of the show was Sammy the dog operated by life giving puppeteer, Elisa de Grey. It is to de Grey’s credit, and ultimate artistry, that after a few short scenes the audience were convinced by her puppeteering skills and gathered Sammy the dog to their hearts. The gestures and sounds created of Sammy, panting, whining, cocking his head or sniffing at various characters, were humourous, endearing and captivating. Sammy first bounded into view, to delighted laughter, at the beginning of proceedings and remained animated on stage for almost every scene. Miss de Grey should not only be commended on her artistry but also on her stamina.
Overall thought, the lack of fluidity of the production overshadowed the positive aspects of strong storyboard material, good lighting and sets, rousing songs and the enthusiasm of the majority of the players. Sadly amiss from the performance was that magic thread which binds the best performances together seamlessly. Instead what was on display was a series of set pieces, some enjoyable others amateurish, which led to an overall clunky, disjointed and disappointing effect.