First things first. If your heart is not in the slightest bit warmed by the British Theatre Academy’s production of Goodnight Mister Tom, this may be a sign that you do not in fact have a heart. Michelle Magorian’s book is a classic, beloved by many children and more than a few adults, and this faithful adaptation is sure to bring a smile.
The set (PJ McEvoy) is simple but thoroughly charming, bringing a 1940s village to life with a gentle backdrop of golden-hued paintings and autumn leaves. Against this rural setting, a cast of young actors tell the story of William (Evan Huntley-Robertson), a timid young boy who is evacuated from a harrowing upbringing in London to find a home with isolated widower Tom (James Sampson).
Anyone who is familiar with the story will know that it does not shy away from the harsh realities of life in wartime Britain, and so David Wood’s adaptation does not either. Although uplifting, this is not always a happy play, and the young cast deliver these harder scenes with great maturity and depth. Allie Aylott is particularly powerful as William’s ill, unstable mother and Huntley-Robertson delivers an outstanding performance throughout as the traumatised evacuee himself.
There are some issues with pacing – the first half feels hurried, the second half perhaps a little jarring with a series of very rapid scene changes. There is also the mostly unnecessary ensemble, whose main job seems to be helpfully gasping as other actors mention important plot points. Of course, it is fantastic to see the BTA giving so many aspiring actors the opportunity to appear onstage, but you can’t help wondering if they couldn’t have found a better use for some of them.
This is not a professional production, and no amount of talent in the cast can entirely smooth away the awkwardness that all characters are played by children and young adults. However good Sampson’s performance, for example (and it is very good), he is still very obviously a teenage boy and not a man in his sixties. It’s not for everyone, but if you can suspend your disbelief for an hour or two, it’s a production well worth throwing support behind – if only to see actors who will certainly be making waves in the future.