Goodnight Mister Tom at the Southwark Playhouse
The British Theatre Academy is on a mission to engage people under 23 in the theatrical arts, regardless of their socioeconomic background. This is an admirable cause, and much needed. The company’s diverse cast are currently tackling Goodnight Mister Tom and their zeal and youth are well served by this earnest and much-loved childhood classic.
This is not exactly a perfect production. The staging is a little clunky, exasperated by the script adaptation by David Wood, based on the book by Michelle Magorian. The original work is a hefty wartime novel, detailing the growing relationship between curmudgeonly countryside pensioner Tom Oakley and an evacuee from London called William. It relies on the kind of detail and exposition you can only get from the passing of time, as William’s traumatic past is slowly revealed and healed by the unlikely connection. Crammed into a 90-minute play, however, this process feels rushed and you never get the true sense of Tom’s previous reclusiveness or reluctance to forge human relationships, undermining his character arc. Furthermore, the sizeable cast of characters has to be stablished very quickly, with the introduction of new arrivals dashing on and off and set changes taking up a lot of time.
The fact of it is, however, that this performance is not meant as a showcase of staging or script writing, but as a way to foster the talent of young actors. And this is done is abundance. It could seem concerning that an under-23 would be required to portray an old man, but James Sampson does a fantastic job. The performer folds into himself and moves with such slowness and precision that his youth is quickly forgotten. The even fresher members of the ensemble are also noteworthy: Evan Huntley-Robertson’s portrayal of William is reminiscent of Mark Lester’s iconic 1968 Oliver Twist in its sombre innocence, while Felix Hepburn conjured true belly laughs and true heartbreak as his best friend and amateur dramatist Zach.
This young talent made Goodnight Mister Tom truly charming despite the limitations, and it ended on an equally poignant and uplifting note, with some hope for the future.
Photo: Eliza Wilmot
Goodnight Mister Tom is at the Southwark Playhouse from 25th July until 25th August 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.