Goodnight Mister Tom 'makes for an enjoyable evening for all' at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans

Goodnight Mister Tom at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

Goodnight Mister Tom at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. - Credit: Abbey Theatre

Madeleine Burton reviews Goodnight Mister Tom, Company of Ten's latest production at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

Goodnight Mister Tom at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

Goodnight Mister Tom at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. - Credit: Abbey Theatre

What is there not to like about the story behind Goodnight Mister Tom, the current production from the Company of Ten at the Abbey Theatre.

Based on the evacuation of children at the start of World War Two, it has sentimentality in bucketloads.

But it is more than just the story of William Beech and Tom Oakley, who takes him into his home in the fictional village of Little Weirwold. 

Goodnight Mister Tom at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

Goodnight Mister Tom at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. - Credit: Abbey Theatre

For there is a much darker side to the story which lifts the play out of pathos and reveals the cruelty inflicted on little William in the name of Christianity by his own mother.

It is the sort of play normally put on by the Company of Ten at Christmas time because it relies heavily on the children in the cast.

But that aforesaid darkness does not really lend itself to the season of goodwill, particularly as it is a play that, as director Tony Bradburn points out in his programme notes, strikes parallels with the current situation in Ukraine.

Goodnight Mister Tom at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

Goodnight Mister Tom at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. - Credit: Abbey Theatre

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It is an ambitious production for an amateur dramatic company to put on because it relies so much on scene changes.

Not only does Tony Bradburn deserve a round of applause for tackling it but special mention also has to go to stage manager Cliff Stratford and his team for the clever way they devised the set.

And in Rory Byrne as Tom Oakley, the Company of Ten has the perfect actor in the role. His kindness and growing love for the young evacuee he takes in is totally believable – particularly in contrast to William’s mother, played with spine-chilling coldness by Deborah Cole.

On Friday night, Sachin Jallport took the role of William with Milo Sydenham as his friend Zach. Both boys acted their socks of, particularly Milo as the effervescent Jewish boy lodging with the village doctor.

Goodnight Mister Tom at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

Goodnight Mister Tom at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. - Credit: Abbey Theatre

Company of Ten stalwarts such as Roy Bookham, Roger Bartlett and Dewi Williams brought their roles alive, particularly Roy as the ARP warden, shades of Dad’s Army there.

The only reservation I have is that the flow of the stage version as compared with the original novel and the television series is constantly interrupted by short scenes.

But once you get used to that, it makes for an enjoyable evening for all, particularly families.

Goodnight Mister Tom runs until Saturday, June 18 and tickets can be obtained from www.abbeytheatre.org.uk