Goodnight Mister Tom hits the stage

Ron Common
Ron Common

The Southwick Players bring Goodnight Mister Tom to the stage – and director Ron Common is loving every minute of it.

“I saw it on television many years ago, and it was such a great film,” says Ron. “Such a great storyline. And then I had the opportunity to see it on stage, and I fell in love with the concept. Having seen it, I then made inquiries about doing it, thinking I would love either to be in it or to direct it. I got in touch and found out that we could do it, but then I realised that we didn’t have a slot because our programme was scheduled for the next 12 to 18 months. I would have been looking at 2018 or 2019.

“But then H Reeves, one of our members, was going to do three plays that he had proposed, and then he couldn’t do them, and so I got this slot now by default, which was great.”

They are staging the new adaptation by David Wood of Michelle Magorian’s novel (September 13-16).

Set during the dark and dangerous build-up to the Second World War, Goodnight Mister Tom follows sad young William Beech, who is evacuated to the idyllic English countryside and builds a remarkable and moving friendship with the elderly recluse Tom Oakley. All seems perfect until William is summoned by his mother back to London…

Goodnight Mister Tom is a tale of two broken souls at very different ends of the age scale that celebrates the value of love and proves that friendship knows no barriers.

“There are sometimes circumstances that put two people together that are not meant to be together in the same place, and this is one of them,” Ron says. “The lad comes from an upbringing with his mother which was very, very strict and church-going, and she insisted that he is evacuated to someone that is near a church and is a church-goer.

“At the other end, Mister Tom has agreed to take an evacuee much to the surprise of the rest of the village because he is a surly, grumpy fellow. He was widowed many years ago, and he has had no close relationships with anybody, let alone any youngsters.

“When this boy turns up on his doorstep, he is bruised and dirty and has been neglected and bullied by his mother. But following a period of months, Mister Tom and the boy build up a bond of friendship that really pulls at your heart. You see how both of them are changing. The young lad learns to read and write and makes a friend in the village, and Mister Tom is equally changing. He is becoming more and more fond of the boy, and when he gets a letter calling the boy back to his mother in London, he really misses him. When he doesn’t hear from the boy, he goes to London to search for him…”

Inevitably, it’s difficult not to think of John Thaw in the role of Mister Tom, Ron admits: “You have got the lines, and the development of the character is down to the actor, but John Thaw was absolutely excellent.

“But for this production, it was a question of finding someone who was able to do the surliness at the start and was able to show how Mister Tom changes as well…”

The cast is Olivia Harrison, Brooke Lewis, Dixie Humberstone Ford, Henry Andrews, Ruby Houghton, Thomas Scott, Lucy Scott, Rebecca Hain, Louis Johnson, Sharon Churchill, Liz Gibson, Jamie Cranfield, Mark Caplan, Nikki Dunsford, Amy Bowyer, Harry Atkinson, H Reeves, Louise Yeo, Nina Hayward, and Jenny Burtenshaw. Performances are at The Barn Theatre, Southwick. www.southwickplayers.org.uk.

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