REVIEW: Goodnight Mister Tom, Sunderland Empire

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SAY good day to a beautiful portrayal of a life-changing friendship.

Goodnight Mister Tom transports audiences into the pages of Michelle Magorian’s classic children’s novel with aplomb.

At its heart are two tortured souls: schoolboy William Beech who has faced abuse at the hands of his religious zealot of a mother, and elderly Tom Oakley, who is consumed by grief over his late wife.

They are thrown together by the horrors of war, yet what emerges is a poignant tale of how love conquers all.

Master dramatist David Wood’s adaptation of the novel is brimming with charm. He brilliantly contrasts the serenity of Dorset life with war-torn London in feat after feat of clever staging.

Alan Vicary leads the cast as cantankerous Mister Tom and it’s a joy to see his grumpiness melt away thanks to the little boy who is thrust into his solitary life.

Alan is complemented perfectly by Arthur Gledhill-Franks as young, starved-of-love William. The more difficult scenes in which he deals with the loss of loved ones are executed with an empathy that belies his young years.

Joseph Holgate as larger-than-life Zach also shines and provides some light relief from the themes of death, suicide and mental illness which punctuate Tom and William’s friendship.

Special mention must also go to the animals of the piece. Though they appear on stage with puppeteers, the animals, especially Sammy the faithful collie, appear so real you almost forget their organ grinders are there.

I took my 10-year-old niece Amy along to the show and though, like most children, her previous experience of theatre has been the spectacle and pizazz of panto and musicals, she was attentive throughout this more gentle production.

Young or old, this proved to be an enchanting tale for all.

Katy Wheeler