Great family entertainment in Christmas production of Goodnight Mr Tom at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City
- Credit: John Davies
Goodnight Mr Tom, opening with a charity preview next Friday at the Barn Theatre, is not perhaps a traditional Christmas show in the recognised sense.
It's a long way from pantomime, but it is a much-loved seasonal family show that’s not afraid to target the emotions.
Clive Weatherly, artistic director at the Barn, opened his post-Covid comeback season with a finely balanced programme.
Following on from The Audience and Equus, Goodnight Mr Tom, is one of his personal favourites, that he was keen to see produced in Welwyn Garden City and he persuaded Siobhán Hill Elam to direct.
Billed as one of the most uplifting stories ever written, Michelle Magorian’s classic 1982 Second World War story was adapted for film in 1998, when John Thaw moved the nation to tears with his portrayal of Mr Tom.
David Wood’s 2011 stage adaptation debuted at the Chichester Festival Theatre starring Oliver Ford-Davies, when the Independent critic said: "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."
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It went on to win the 2013 Olivier Award for Best Family Entertainment.
At the start of the play, World War Two looms and when cowed evacuee, William Beech, is billeted with the elderly Tom Oakley in Dorset, it looks as if he is out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Even the local villagers think that William has got a poor deal being lodged with Tom, who has withdrawn from the village and the world since the death of his wife and small baby 41 years previously.
Tom is not an obvious choice for this role, but he lives beside the village church which, for William’s abusive, religious zealot mother, was a condition of allowing her son to be evacuated.
Of course, man and boy prove to be the best possible medicine for each other and, with the help of Sammy the dog, and the community, William makes friends and settles into idyllic village life…. until he’s recalled to London by his mother.
Siobhán Hill Elam, a seasoned Barn actor and director, is assisted by Christopher Wallace in the complex staging of GMT and directs a cast of 27, which includes seven accomplished young actors aged between 11 and 14.
It also stars a puppet dog called Sammy, built and operated by Barn member Tristan Cameron, who turns out to have a degree in robotics!
Pete Dawson, who plays Mr Tom, directs the musical numbers which include some nostalgic Vera Lynn songs and cheeky children’s wartime ditties.
The family play, touching on adult themes as it highlights the healing powers of love and hope, runs at the Barn Theatre from Sunday, December 12 to Thursday, December 30 at 7.30pm, with matinees at 2.30pm on December 12, 18, 19, 24, 27 and 28.
Tickets cost £13 and are available from the Barn Theatre box office on 01707 324300 or online at www.barntheatre.co.uk
The December 15 performance is socially distanced to a maximum half capacity and households will be seated separately in the auditorium.
There will also be a charity preview on Friday, December 10, with proceeds going to local charity, Herts Young Homeless (hyh).
Tickets for this charity performance are available from https://barntheatre.ticketline.co.uk/order/gateway/13360039
Based in Hatfield, Herts Young Homeless this year supported over 2,000 youngsters in the county. In November of this year it opened a house in Welwyn Garden City to provide accommodation and support for five young people.
Its focus is on preventing homelessness – from education in schools and family mediation through to supporting 16-24 year olds in their first homes or caring for adults of all ages who have mental health issues and housing needs.
For more information go to www.hyh.org.uk