Goodnight Mister Tom, Chichester Festival Theatre


A kindly curmudgeon wins the heart

This stage adaptation of Michelle Magorian's moving 1981 novel for children, Goodnight Mister Tom has everything that tugs the heart strings and stimulates the tear ducts. But it is also splendidly faithful to the book's remarkable depiction of the darkness of death and mental illness, bullying, bigotry and parental cruelty. And in Angus Jackson's production it has moments of enchanting comedy courtesy of the alternating teams of very appealing child performers.

When William Beach arrives as an evacuee in Dorset, even well-meaning locals reckon that he has drawn the short straw in being billeted on the curmudgeonly widower, Mister Tom. The boy is bruised, illiterate, baffled by kindness. The old man is gruff, wary of displays of emotion and semi-reclusive since the death in childbed of his wife and daughter 41 years before. They gradually form a bond. But William is summoned back to London by his abusive mother, only to be discovered by Mister Tom, after an air raid, locked in a closet and cradling the corpse of a baby girl.

Oliver Ford Davies traces Mister Tom's reawakened capacity for tenderness most touchingly. Bringing a simultaneous lump to the throat and a smile to the lips, there is a delightful puppet dog, manipulated by a puppeteer in one of those Hovis ad flat caps. I found especially upsetting the scene where this adorable canine was barred from entering the hospital room where Mister Tom was due to discuss William's future with the psychiatrists.

Comically contrasted with William's brooding quietness is his wonderful show-off friend Zach, the Peter Pan of middle-class infant precocity and with am-dram ambitions that would make Bottom appear quite a retiring backstage type. Village society is nicely etched in, too, with an Ealing-esque broad drollery. In our current world where you have to apologise in advance if "real smoking" is to happen on stage, a fag-puffing GP now looks as picturesquely dated a phenomenon as wearing woad.

There's a spectacular set by Robert Innes Hopkins. The platform of a country station, replete with evocative travel posters for Dorset will suddenly rear up like a huge drawbridge disclosing a grimy peeling slum home where the roost is ruled by a violently religious and emotionally vindictive mother. Goodnight Mister Tom may be aimed primarily at children but it has some of Dickens's power of fixing on our primal fears – as when it seems that insensitive medics may haul William away from the ideal, loving foster parent of happier fantasies. And it's not a story of untroubled redemption, either. Even when William is recovering back in Dorset, his progress is cruelly hindered by the death of his best friend (the utterly winning little show-off) in the London bombing – an event staged here in one great severing flash.

At the end, there isn't a dry eye in the house. This show is going to be a big success – and I wouldn't mind the Kleenex franchise.

Touring to 14 May (

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living