Tag Archives: Alan Bennett

Goodnight Mister Tom

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.

Goodnight Mister Tom

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.

William and Tom in Goodnight Mister Tom

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.)

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Stocking fillers and other details

We have nearly thawed the Grandmother. She arrived three days ago – almost as deep frozen as Debi Gliori’s Strega-Nonna – courtesy of TransPennine. She has to put up with a lot when visiting Bookwitch Towers, one of which was an evening of Boggling.

We were thwarted in our plans for a Christmas Eve service in the Bookwitch church in Liverpool by more freezing, this time of water pipes. The plans dried up in the wake of flooding. (Couldn’t resist. Sorry.) Needing to replace our intended outing with something else, we went to the Plaza for elevenses. My past incompatibility with the Plaza should have told me not to try. We repaired instead to good old M&S, where we commandeered three tables and bathtub sized coffees. At least it was warm. After a last minute purchase of apples, Daughter and I managed to mislay WH Smith. We found it behind the Merry-go-round, and Daughter had a look at their teen books section, finding very little that wasn’t black with a dash of red.

Back at BWT we found, as had been expected, that the parcel that was 24 hours late had managed to deliver itself to the neighbours. It would never have arrived had we stayed in for it. Son has a way of writing pleading missives to delivery men and taping them to the front door, wishing them a Merry Christmas. That’s the missives. We have as yet to tape delivery men to our door, but I suppose it could be done, if only as a warning.

I didn’t feel nearly frozen enough, so went for a brief walk, encountering our poor postman on his very late round. Felt so bad that we offered him tea and a mincepie when he finally made it to our house.

Our presents insisted on being opened post-mincepie, accompanied by some suitable carols. A few weeks ago I read about the excellence of Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, so went to the shelf to get it out. Found to my surprise it seemed to be one we didn’t have, so its appearance under the tree on Christmas Eve was most welcome. As were two DVDs with the really old Famous Fives from my childhood, if not my television, since we didn’t get such wonderful things on our foreign screens. I know the Tey will be good. It has a sticker on the back saying ‘Used. Good.’

We dined on Daughter’s cannelloni in the company of Alan Bennett on the making of The Habit of Art. (I know. We are really boring.)

And this morning I have the meaning of the word ‘stocking fillers’ on my mind. Are they clementines and packets of raisins, or are they iPods and similar? Some weird kind of inflation would seem to have occurred in the nether regions of dress. Surely stocking fillers are tiny items of smaller value than the ‘real’ presents? Hard to manage in our case, but even so.

While you ponder your reply to this, I’m off to bounce some cranberries. According to my newspaper, it’s how you test their freshness.

Holly and snow

(Yes, I know. Those are holly berries.)

Alan Bennett

‘I’m not spending hundreds of pounds just to go and see Alan Bennett’, the witch told Daughter last summer. I had concluded that there was less than usual that I had an active interest in, at the Gothenburg book fair last September, so decided to save money by not going at all. I hasten to add that Alan Bennett was one of the few that did interest me.

What surprised me was to find Daughter wanting to see him so much. We’d seen History Boys at the Lowry, and it had gone down well with all the family. I just didn’t equate one successful theatre trip as the basis for really, really liking the dramatist. But anyway, none of us went to Gothenburg. I said, very rashly it seems, that we can catch him somewhere else. Seems Alan Bennett doesn’t do lots of personal appearances.

Today is his 75th birthday, and according to the Guardian interview with Blake Morrison, something bad often happens on May 9th. I hope this birthday will go well, though. Happy 75th!