Should you make novels into stage plays? Some books dramatise better than others, and it’d be unfair to expect any novel to seamlessly turn into something of the same quality as a Shakespeare or an Alan Bennett. Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. I just minded a little bit that Lyn Gardner in the Guardian found the new production of Goodnight Mister Tom ‘too safe’.
What did she mean? People were dying all over the place, but maybe that’s not what she had in mind. It’s a novel first, and it can’t work in the same way that a play written exclusively for the stage would. There is a difference. And she seemed to mind that it’s such a safe choice, box office wise. I saw a packed theatre where everyone enjoyed the performance. As Daughter said, there were a lot of old people there. And those that weren’t old, were mostly around ten or eleven. Neither a category that would be looking for avant garde drama.
WWII is popular. And all those junior school pupils were presumably doing the war for history. I bet Michelle Magorian never expected to have her children’s novel put to use as a school book. I well remember Son in Y6 being told to watch the film when it was shown on television. Was meant to be, and then didn’t happen. He was dreadfully upset, and the only way we could remedy the failings of the BBC was for the video to magically magic itself into a birthday present a couple of weeks later.
This production only had time to fit in the bare bones of Michelle Magorian’s novel. But that’s fine. It was all there in spirit, including the best puppet dog I’ve ever seen. Sammy must count as a first cousin to Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse horse puppets, and he truly helped with William’s transition into Tom Oakley’s home.
‘The Sad Man’ – which is how I always think of Oliver Ford Davies – came into his own as Mister Tom. So much more right for the part than John Thaw was in the film. He had an impressively worthy William in Toby Prynne, who was both small and powerful at the same time.
The villagers milled about as villagers do, but in such a way that you could believe in the friendship with the small and frightened evacuee. Clever use of one actress both as the kind teacher and as William’s mother, bringing their differences into the open. The simple set worked well, adding enough period feel without going over the top.
Goodnight Mister Tom is a lovely, heartwarming dramatisation of a wonderful book. It might not be the greatest play in the world, but it’s very enjoyable – apart from the sad bits – and I would guess we all went home happy, albeit in tears.
(This is a reworking of my CultureWitch theatre review on Tuesday. And the William in the photo is not my William.)