Monday Magazine contributor
Wow! Would someone please present a medal to Shauna Baird, for her amazing direction of Goodnight Mister Tom? My husband and Langham Court Theatre companion said, “Why can’t all the plays we see be this good?”
Why not indeed?
This is a war story, appropriate for this time of remembrance. We don’t see much of the action, but the lighting and sound tell us that someone is never coming home. We miss those people who have woven their way into our hearts.
The story is about a young boy, evacuated to the country to avoid the Blitz of London. William Beech is placed with an old curmudgeon, Tom Oakley (sensitively played by Roger Carr) who is not dealing well with the long-ago loss of his wife and child. William is withdrawn and has been badly abused. Tom has compassion and the two of them grow close and experience the healing power of love.
William finds himself in the midst of friends, who, after some initial teasing, stand by him and begin to change him. Tom finds he has a knack for storytelling and teaching. William is called back to look after his mother who has been ill, and we then learn that her true illness is of the mind. A path is found to forge a new life for himself with Tom, and we see that unfolding in the most heartwarming fashion.
There is a large cast of young people here, as well as other wonderful characters, all of them surviving war in whatever way they can. The scenes follow each other seamlessly. Tom’s dog is a character in himself – a wonderful puppet devised by set designer Bill Adams and manipulated by talented puppeteer Nathan Corpus. Other puppets, under the care of Wendy Stevens, feature a squirrel and a sparrow.
The roles of William and of Zach, a colourful young lad and fellow evacuee, are alternated by two actors each. On opening night we saw Caius Munro as William and Gabriel White as Zach, who both acted brilliantly.
I could not see anyone listed as voice and dialect coach, and it has to be reluctantly admitted that some of the British accents are a little hard to recognize and understand, but the performances are so good that it doesn’t even matter.
The adults in the piece all take multiple parts, and all are versatile and clever in their characters. There is some singing of the old war songs, such as “The White Cliffs of Dover,” which cause lumps in all our throats.
A good play tells a believable story and causes our emotions to be here or there with the characters. Phonyness has no place, and it is not found in Goodnight Mister Tom.
If you see only one story of Armistice on this, its 100th anniversary, let it be this one! Goodnight Mister Tom runs at Langham Court Theatre now through Nov. 24. Call to reserve tickets at 250-384-2142 or visit email@example.com.