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September 17 2017, Reviews The Phoebe Rees Competition

Goodnight Mister Tom

 Edgar Hall,
Somerton,
Wednesday 13th September
 Somerton Dramatic Society were putting out more chairs at the Edgar Hall when I arrived to watch the second night of their run of Goodnight Mister Tom this past week. Clearly word had gone around and people were pouring in. 
 
It is a great story – an adaptation of Michelle Magorian’s extremely popular novel published about 30 years ago and since made into a film for ITV starring the late John Thaw and now into an award-winning play by David Wood. It has already enjoyed a UK tour and a Christmas revival in the West End since it was first staged at the Chichester Festival 6 years ago, and looks to be becoming a modern classic. With its large cast of something like 26 characters, playing mainly village folk and including at least half a dozen lively children, it would seem an excellent choice for any ambitious amateur group with lots of keen members.
 
The story begins in the ‘phoney-war’ period leading up to WW2 and concerns a 10 year old boy, William Beech (very skilfully and sensitively played by young Seb Lowe), who up to now has known only physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his mentally ill mother in London but has been sent to an idyllic village in Dorset as an evacuee. Totally lost and bewildered in this new environment, William is placed with Tom Oakley (a nice warm committed performance from Tim Richards), an elderly embittered man who has lived alone for 40 years, ever since his young wife and child died. The two of them gradually forge a remarkable and heart-warming friendship which enables them to escape the darkness of their broken lives. It seems that, for both of them, Fortune is smiling, but then William is summoned by his mother back to London…
 
David Wood hasn’t made it easy; there are over 20 scenes, in a multitude of different settings, and the professional version included Tom’s dog named Sammy, operated by a puppeteer, as well as puppet squirrel and a puppet bird!  Not surprisingly Director Monica Nicholls decided to do without the squirrel and the bird, and in her version Sammy was played by a Border Collie named Oscar. With his tail clamped down and his ears laid back, Oscar gave the impression that he would have preferred to be anywhere but on stage, but his entrance did bring lots of delighted and appreciative oohs and aahs from the audience! 
 
Indeed the whole production was very well received, not least because it provided parts for so many other local characters, several of whom demonstrated considerable expertise in taking on a range of roles. There were too many to mention all by name, but Helen D’Ovidio in particular stood out in the roles of nice Mrs Hartridge, the school-teacher, and nasty Mrs Beech, William’s mother. Julie Bassham played the kindly Mrs Miller and the very scary Miss Stelton, while Patricia Allen made a lasting impression as the extremely strict Billeting Officer and the lovely ‘Glad’ back in London. Jack Davey brought great energy in playing the bumptious Zack, and John Saunders was very credible as the sensible country doctor.
 
Monica had made maximal use of the hall as well as the stage itself to provide an extended acting area, settings were imaginatively constructed by Ian Vardy, Eddie Crumplin, Mark Aylward and Steve Bomers, who moved them smoothly round the stage on trucks, sound recordings were very well used by Rob Cherry to create the period, and Ian Hurdman did his best with the rather limited facilities at the Edgar Hall to provide effective atmospheric lighting. However it was the costumes (Patricia Allen) and props (Sherry Briggs, Margaret Lacey) which had the greatest impact in recreating that 40’s feel; even the front of house teams were dressed appropriately, and everyone remembered their gas mask! 
 
This was clearly a very successful community production and one which Somerton Dramatic Society can feel justly proud of. Most enjoyable – thank you. 
 

Philip