5 April 2016

Goodnight Mister Tom at Richmond Theatre generated laughs, tears, smiles and cheers

I got sort of suckered into this one having agreed to go without knowing anything about it at all, other than the review headlines chosen by Richmond Theatre to promote the event. I was growing to like the Richmond Theatre more and had enjoyed many of the other touring shows that had visited there so I took a punt and agreed to go.

I realised late on the actual day that it started at the earlier than usual time of 7pm, because child actors are not allowed to work late, but with some juggling (I finished work early) I was still able to get to the Pigs Ears beforehand for a pizza and a pint of raspberry beer from Belgium via Kirkstall. Both were delicious.

I had gone for a seat in my usual area, Dress Circle Row A Seat 21, which cost me a frugal £25. Having seats that good at that price was one reason that I was going to the Richmond Theatre regularly. The point was drilled home when I collected my ticket at the box office as the machine also printed out my tickets for the next two weeks, all in the same row.

Goodnight Mister Tom opened with a group of children being evacuated from London to Dorset days before the outbreak of. World War II which, for those of us who had no idea what to expect, immediately set the period, the place and the tone. One villager, the elderly Tom Oakley (the Tom of the title) took in William Beech, a boy aged around eight.

The boy was extremely shy, was scared of the dog, could not eat his food and when Tom looked in the small suitcases of possessions that William had brought with him he found a belt that he was meant to hit the boy with. We soon learned that William could not read or write either.

William settled down into his new home and, after some initial friction between the established village children and the newcomers, made a few friends at school. People gave him passed-on clothes to wear and Tom started to teach him to read and right. He even got on with Tom's dog, Sammy, though a squirrel scared him a little.

Everything seemed to be heading nicely towards an ending where William thrives with Tom's help but there was a lot more to the story than that. This was wartime and a few people died in the fighting. Other people died for other reasons so while there was a positive, Dunkirk spirit, running through the play there was also a lot to feel sad about or, as the woman in the box near me did, cry your eyes out to.

Goodnight Mister Tom had a lot going on with a lot of characters for us to care about each with their own stories to keep us enthralled.

Leading the way strongly was David Troughton (Tony Archer!) as Tom Oakley and he fully deserved his curtain call, as did his co-star the puppeteer who brought Sammy to life so expertly and entertainingly. The next two to take a well deserved bow were the two boys who played William and his best friend Zach. The rest of the cast, several of whom played several roles, deserved their cheers too.

Everything about the show was neat and professional without seeming contrived or becoming too sentimental. It was a good honest story about war, deprivation, hope, death and muddling through that made us all cry, laugh, smile and cry again.

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