7:35 a.m. December 14, 2021
The Christmas play at the Barn Theater this year is based on the novel Goodnight Mr Tom, (later a blockbuster film) by Michelle Magorian, adapted for the stage by David Wood.
This is a somewhat unusual choice for this slot machine; not the usual light mix of comedy and music aimed at small children and their families, but a more serious, though often comedic, play. And quite suitable for children, I should add, but probably not for children under five.
Set at the very start of WWII, it is about a boy named William who is evacuated from South East London to a small village in Dorset, where he is staying with childless widower Tom Oakley, the ‘ Mr Tom ”from the title.
The boy appears to have been abused in the past and takes some time to get used to village life in general and the local children in particular. The cantankerous Mr. Tom has no babysitting experience but is decent and caring.
Soon after, the two form an affectionate relationship, but external events intervene to bring William back to the Blitz in London, much to their chagrin. What happens next is an accurate account not only of the trials and tragedies of that time, but also of the strong sense of community and caring that permeated the nation. And yes, there is a happy ending.
Pete Dawson sits at the very center of the play as Tom Oakley, and gives a compelling and very sensitive performance as a grumpy but benevolent widower. The role of William is shared between twin brothers Charlie and Harrison Evans; I have seen Harrison, but I am sure his performance is indistinguishable from that of his brother. He is certainly a natural and very credible young actor who contributes enormously to the success of the production.
The other children’s roles are played by equally gifted young people: Isobella Martin as the intelligent Carrie, Tom Hopley as the thug George, who becomes a good friend of William, and Freddie Samuels as the son. flamboyant parentage actors.
Special mention to Tom Sammy’s dog, represented by a charming puppet built and operated by Tristan Cameron. We came to believe he was alive – the magic of live theater!
Surprisingly for such a small theater there are a total of 23 actors involved, a huge challenge in these difficult times for director Siobhán Hill Elam, who has also been forced to take on a few minor roles. Quite an achievement.
It’s a beautifully written play: a truthful, often moving, sometimes funny account of life in Britain during the most threatening period in our history. Above all, a reaffirmation of the decency of ordinary people.