Goodnight Mister Tom is both heartwarming and heartbreaking: a play about a damaged young boy who is evacuated from London to Dorset at the outbreak of the Second World War, where he is taken in by an initially curmudgeonly but actually incredibly kind man, and they are both changed forever by the experience.
While this theatrical version of a 1981 novel by Michelle Magorian feels a bit episodic at times, it has got a beautiful story to tell and it tells it beautifully. First premiered at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2011, it has previously been seen in the West End in 2012, and now makes a welcome Christmas return to the Duke of York's.
But it isn't a Christmas show, as such, though it contains lots to cheer about (and other things to shed a tear over). The stripped back simplicity of Angus Jackson's production has a set that can transform instantly from a postcard vision of Dorset (that possibly adopts that postcard motif a little too literally) to a grimy attic flat in London. But it also offers grit alongside the charm, with young William suffering serious abuse at home from his unhinged religious mother, and an initially unwelcoming reception from the local kids in Dorset, too.
The kids are just marvellous, with Alex Taylor-McDowall's William and Oliver Loades as fellow evacuee Zach at the performance reviewed respectively immensely touching and boisterous. But the show is also spellbindingly anchored by David Troughton's moving, layered performance as the titular Mister Tom, whose own private griefs the play also diligently explores.
It has already won an Olivier Award for Best Entertainment, and it's not difficult to see why: like War Horse and The Lorax, there's some onstage puppeteers, too, but everything is in the service of telling a great story.
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