It takes some time adapting to the world that director Jake Smith has created for this adaptation of Michelle Magorian’s popular children’s tale of wartime evacuees.
For example, travel is symbolised by whirling actors and flying suitcases, but, once engaged, the audience is drawn in to a world of small-village eccentrics and the central themes of love, loss and redemption..
Once again designer Ed Ullyart has worked miracles with the tiny space that is the East Riding Theatre stage.
Without any sense that audience credulity is being stretched, we are transported from railway stations, to a graveyard, to a London slum, and many more locations.
Ullyart’s work is a testament to what can be achieved with limited means.
At the core of the play is, of course, a very young actor.
On the evening I saw the show, William Beech was played by Joe Dawson.
For one so young, he is assured and professional, pacing his performance and underplaying the role until the second act where the weight of the drama falls heavily on his shoulders.
The restrained acting pays off at key moments such as when he calls Mr Tom ‘Dad’ or suddenly blurts out ‘I love you Mr Tom’. The audience melted.
Mr Tom himself is played by Roger Alborough.
This is an actor who seems to be able to embody a role.
He may progress from curmudgeonly widower to lovable grandfather rather quickly, but we believe in his anxiety when William disappears in London and share in his elation at William’s return.
Other cast members are required to play multiple roles and, since Blue Remembered Hills, we have become accustomed to adult actors playing children.
The demands on all of them are considerable since they also have to change the set frequently as well as play Mr Tom’s dog.
However, of the ensemble I must single out Sara Beharrell as Mrs Beech.
Her playing of William’s demented mother is truly chilling and, for me, signalled a quickening in the pace of the whole production.
Selecting Goodnight Mr Tom as a Christmas production is an original choice.
It carries similar messages to those traditionally associated with with this season – goodwill and kindness – but wrapped up in a secular package.
It’s also a good, fun evening in the theatre.
Goodnight Mr Tom is on at East Riding Theatre, Beverley, until Sunday January 6.
Performance times are December 21 at 7.30pm; December 22 and 23 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm; December 24 at 2.30pm; December 26 at 7.30pm
December 27 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm; December 28 at 7.30pm; December 29 and 30 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm; December 31 at 2.30pm
January 2 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm; January 3 and 4 at 7.30pm; January 5 and 6 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm
Tickets can be booked on 01482 874050 or www.eastridingtheatre.co.uk
During the run of Goodnight Mister Tom, the theatre is are offering audiences the chance to buy tickets to enter a prize draw which features some amazing prizes donated by local businesses.
They include a £60 restaurant voucher for the Westwood, silber cufflinks from Guest and Philips, afternoon tea from TC Patisserie and two courses from Carluccio’s.
All the proceeds from the draw will go towards developing East Riding Theatre’s outreach work in Schools and the local community.
Tickets are a £1 and available to buy from the theatre.