The British Theatre Academy’s youth production of Goodnight Mister Tom brings both playfulness and maturity to Michelle Magorian’s enduring story about evacuees.
Michelle Magorian’s children’s book, Goodnight Mister Tom, is cherished by many for its depiction of life for evacuees at the outbreak of World War II. It’s encouraging, then, to see it being passed to the next generation – as young actors from the British Theatre Academy bring the story to life in this thoughtful production at the Southwark Playhouse. The young cast give an overall assured performance even as they take on a wide range of roles, from a gruff 60-something-year-old widower to a sweet-natured ‘townie’ boy trying to adjust to country life.
Astute performances frequently add extra spark to Jo Kirkland’s production. The puppeteer of Sammy (the sheepdog) is wonderfully realistic in their movements and sounds, whilst the challenging role of a troubled and abusive young mother is played with notable maturity by Allie Aylott. Meanwhile, the antics of the juvenile characters bring a lovely playfulness to the show. Everyone was especially tickled when one young evacuee careered around on a broken bicycle and proudly announced to onlookers: ‘I’m still a public menace!’
Casting a shadow on these light-hearted scenes in Goodnight Mister Tom is the ugliness of war and human cruelty. Fear, humiliation and loss are some of the hardships felt in the play, not least by the main characters ‘Mister Tom’ (a precise performance from James Sampson) and his evacuee charge William (a charming Evan Huntley-Robertson). But through all of that, the idea that families come in all shapes and sizes – and are really just the people who love you – is the story that Goodnight Mister Tom tells best.