Forget pantos this festive season, go instead to a family drama that touches both heart and soul. It is of course David Wood's play Goodnight Mister Tom (Duke of York's Theatre), adapted from the novel by Michelle Magorian and former winner of an Oliver award.
Set during the dangerous build up to the Second World War the play, a Chichester Festival Theatre production, follows young William Beech, who is evacuated to the idyllic English countryside, where he is taken in by an initially curmudgeonly but actually kind elderly recluse, Tom Oakley. All is perfect until William is suddenly summoned by his mother back to London.
This is a tale of twobroken souls at very different ends of the age scale that celebrates the value of love and proves that friendship knows no barrier. Admittedly the drama feels a bit episodic at times but it has a beautiful storu to tell and tells it beautifully, without recourse to mawkishness or sentimentality. It also offers scenes of harsh realism – William suffering serious abuse at reception fron the local kids in Dorset – alongside the warn humour and charm.
The set by Robert Innes Hopkins transforms instantly from a postcard vision of Dorset to a grimy attic-flat in London and lends a palpable sense of atmosphere to the proceedings.
Director Angus Jackson elicits excellent performances from David Troughton who is most moving as the titular Mister Tom and Alex Taylor-McDowall (sharing the role with Freddy Hawkins and Joe Reynolds) as William, the boy who escapes an abusive home and discovers what it is to be loved. Strong support is given by Oliver Loades (again sharing the role with Harrison Noble and Sonny Kirby) as fellow evacuee Zach, whom William befriends, and Melle Stewart as William's violent mother.
This poignant, uplifting show will certainly inspire audiences and bring generations together.
Runs until 20 February 2016
Box office: 0844 871 3051