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Muddy review: Goodnight Mister Tom in Woking

Tom1. Alex Taylor-McDowall (William) and David Troughton (Tom Oakley) Dan Tsantilis

This production had me at ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’. My eyes welled, my throat constricted. And I knew right then, it was going to be a good’un. And my-oh-my, I’ve got to tell you, it is. It’s at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking, and you’ve got until Saturday to see it.

It’s a beautiful story, and one that will break your heart, make you smile and certainly make you cry. So tip number one: take a hanky. Or two.

It is, of course, based on the classic 1981 children’s novel by Michelle Magorian, which I confess I have never read. I wish I had. Not because I’d have liked to have known the story before tonight, but because I think I’ve missed out on a stonker of a story. And because I love a good sob.

The story is set just as the Second World War is starting, and follows a young boy, William Beech, played with a delightfully innocent charm by 11-year-old Freddy Hawkins, one of three boys sharing the role. William is evacuated from London to a small village in Dorset, and is billeted to the grumpy old recluse Tom Oakley who has lived alone, with his old sheepdog Sammy, since his wife died 40 years earlier.

William arrives, timid and small, and covered in bruises. When Tom pulls a Bible and a large belt intended for chastising the boy, from a paper bag sent by his mother, William cowers under the table. Tom shakes with anger and disapproval. You can see where it’s going.

Tom10. Oliver Loades (Zach) Alex Taylor-McDowall (William) Dan Tsantilis

David Troughton is in the role of Tom, and he is fabulous. He takes us on his own emotional journey with a compelling and convincing believability, as his capacity for affection and protectiveness towards William are unfurled. It’s sweet and endearing. And yet it’s never soppy.

Sammy too, is an endearing presence, manipulated in an incredibly clever and life-like way by puppeteer Elisa de Grey. And eleven-year-old Harrison Noble also shone as William’s new best friend, Zach, a lively and theatrical Jewish boy who is also evacuated to the Dorset village.

Tom13. David Troughton (Tom Oakley) and Elisa de Grey Dan Tsantilis

Directed by Angus Jackson, it was adapted for the stage by David Wood, one of the UK’s top writers and directors of plays and musicals for children. And while some of the themes may still be too much for younger kids, there’s a charming quality to this play.

I took my eldest Mudlet, who like the two young actors is also 11, which perhaps makes the story all the more poignant for me. But there are the painful parts to watch too. William’s violent God-fearing mother, and the abusive way in which she both speaks to William and treats him. There are deaths too; of a baby, and men and boys lost to the war.

But the end is happy. My boy enjoyed this production, although for him it was slow on occasion. He loved the puppets, especially Sammy (there were also squirrels and birds). But he most liked Mister Tom. And, I have to say, so did I.

Goodnight Mister Tom is on until Sat 23 April at New Victoria Theatre, The Ambassadors, Peacocks Centre, Woking, GU21 6GQ. Tel: 0844 871 7645. Tickets: £14.40-£31.40.

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