“Goodnight Mister Tom” written by Michelle Magorian (1981) has inspired for generations. The director David Wood stays loyal to the original story and succeeds in transmitting the right emotions to the audience by creating realistic and spontaneous-sounded dialogues.
The cast include Award-winning actor Oliver Ford Davies (Mister Tom), Arthur Gledhill- Franks (William Beech) and Joseph Holgate (Zach), gave its best, bringing into life a priceless text and transforming it into a momentous piece of work. The musical parts functioned like well made transmissions between the scenes, leaving a light note of Musical Theatre. Costumes and scenery, also, fulfilled the story’s expectations by decorating the theatre and creating an actual late thirties’ atmosphere.
The story is about a boy named William Beech who among many children had to leave London and escape to the English countryside for safety reasons at the beginning of World War II. According figures from 1939, approximately three million people including children were evacuatedduring the war.
So William, who wearing his identification label and carrying his gas mask, with a change of clothes and lots of fear painted on his face goes to Little Weirwold to live with Mister Tom, a quiet, unsocial seeming old man. During his time there, Willie and Mister Tom together discover themselves, day by day leaving behind sad memories of the past. In particular, William had been suffering from shocking abuse at the hand and moputh of his Mother and Mister Tom from his wife and unborn child’s deaths. In the end, after a series of adventures, escaping the hospital and dealing with his best friend’s (Zach’s) death William is adopted by Mister Tom.
The events taking place in the story are also reminiscent of the author’s real-life experiences. When her mother was a nurse she had a patient similar to William’s character, an easily frightened and sensitive boy. Then, when her mother died, at her funeral this boy came and ended up living with the man working at the graveyard whose mask is Mister Tom.
Through the friendship and subsequent parenthood that is born between William and Mister Tom a bonding between two different generations is achieved. Children learn that sometimes blood ties are not enough, but true care and self-sacrifice are more necessary.
Use of space is fundamental to this play. As you have already noticed there is a continuous switching between exterior and interior space, city life and countryside and their correspondence to related feelings either positive or negative. The village for example functions as catalyst of the heroes’ happiness. On the opposite when we travel to London, including the train station and the hospital —which will be analysed further below—, unpleasant events happen which function as obstacles for the heroes’ progress.
In particular, the train station symbolises the problematic character of capitalism such as its cause for alienation between people and environmental destruction. It is a place where William says goodbye to his friends and where Zach is killed. Also, the space of the hospital is another negative image of the city where William at the last moment escapes from being shut in an orphanage. The figure of the psychiatrist, making decisions strictly according to the “School’s” theories, cannot see the real child’s happiness, which belongs to Mister Tom’s house. It is interesting to mention the fact that the village’s doctor smokes cigarettes one after another without being concerned about his health. Sometimes, even doctors can act irresponsibly, because there would not be a meaning for progress without making mistakes.
In conclusion, I would like to mention the use catharsis of when both Mister Tom and William are cured from “ghosts” and “traumas” of the past, starting from a state of “disease” and ending with their “cure”. So, we observe, simultaneously, a circular form in the story when at the first part William says “Goodnight Mister Tom” and at the end he changes it into “ Goodbye Dad”. Without any doubt “Goodnight Mister Tom” takes the audience of any background into a therapeutic experience for soul and mind.
The play will be showed until 2 March 2013 at the Grand Opera House in York. Tickets and other information here.