Theatre Review: Goodnight Mister Tom - King's Theatre, Glasgow ✭✭✭✭

Adapted by David Wood from Michelle Magorian's novel of the same name, Goodnight Mister Tom is a beautiful, poignant piece revealing the harsh realities of loss, injustice and cruelty experienced during the war by those who were far from the frontline. It sensitively tackles the issue of mental health, but sadly, neglected children like William still feature in newspapers today, usually with tragic consequences.

Under the imminent threat of World War Two, Operation Pied Piper saw 3 million people leave their homes to escape the war. Goodnight Mister Tom tells the story of William Beech, a young evacuee from London sent to Little Weirwold in Dorset where he is placed with Tom Oakley, who lives a quiet, reclusive life in the company of his dog Sammy. Unlike the other children who are only escaping the war, William is also escaping a dark, miserable childhood. The only belongings accompanying him are kept in a paper bag; a Bible and a leather belt for punishing him. A truly bleak existence.

Oliver Ford Davies captures the essence of the hardened Tom Oakley, unused to children and set in his ways. He brings a delicate softness to Tom when he is around William and the audience mirrors his shocked reaction to William's bruises and surprise at sleeping in a bed. It's impossible not to feel for Tom as he stands at his wife's grave talking to her and Davies brings such heart to the role. Tom's canine companion is wonderfully played by Elisa de Grey who is Sammy's puppeteer. She brings life to the dog through subtle head tilts, paw licking and delicate movements so lifelike that the audience immediately forgets Sammy's a puppet. Non-speaking puppets can be difficult to give personalities to but Sammy is unmistakable. A real talent.

At the performance we saw, William and Zach were played by Ewan Harris and William Price. At 11 and 12 years old Harris and Price punch above their weight. Harris is captivating as poor, downtrodden William and his transformation during his time with Tom is joyous to watch. His Act Two scenes make for difficult viewing and Harris handles it with incredible maturity. As the effervescent Zach, Price is scene-stealing, which makes his fate unbearable.

The entire cast is superb and captures the hustle and bustle of London in contrast with the seemingly idyllic life in Little Weirwold. Robert Innes Hopkins' magical hinged set cleverly opens up to reveal the dark underbelly of William's life in London providing a stunning backdrop and clear lines between life in Little Weirwold and the terrifying home in London.

Goodnight Mister Tom is ultimately heartbreaking but the positive hope of a new life for William is infectious and it's difficult to leave the theatre without a sense of hope and positivity. One for grandparents, parents and children too; it's accessible to all the family and well worth a visit this Easter break. 

Goodnight Mister Tom is at the King's Theatre until 6th April.