With top ratings across the board, Olivier award-winning Goodnight Mr Tom is no doubt on your list of children’s plays to see with your family. We spoke to actor and playwright David Wood OBE, the man who brought Michelle Magorian’s classic children’s book to the stage.
What do you love most about Goodnight Mr Tom?
Michelle’s writing is heartwarming, uplifting and uncompromising. There is something about the story that gives people a warm glow. It’s a children’s book, but much more than that – it appeals to a wide age range, and makes the point that while war is not a nice thing, good can come from bad.
What was the best part about bringing Goodnight Mr Tom to the stage?
I knew early on that this belonged on a stage. Michelle Magorian’s book has a touch of melodrama to it, a larger-than-life aspect that makes it perfect for the stage. Not everyone believed it at first – it took years to get it to the stage!
David felt understandably pleased when it all came together, with moving performances and a play that let the strength of the story really shine through.
From our discussion, it was clear that one of the best aspects of bringing Goodnight Mr Tom to life was the opportunity to work with BAFTA nominated director Angus Jackson. The two go back a very long way – Angus first wrote to David at age 16 to ask his advice about working in the theatre. David of course tried to put him off! To win an Olivier award together must have been a rare pleasure.
What’s so special about this story?
Goodnight Mr Tom uses classic “ruses” of storytelling, manipulating the reader or the audience. We root for the hero or heroine, especially if we feel they are being treated unfairly – like in Cinderella, for example. One of the best ways to connect with the audience is to demonstrate that feeling of unfairness. Then there is a satisfying denouement when justice has been won, when our hero has made it through hardship and hurdles and finally triumphed.
Is it really kid friendly?
It’s important for children to learn about the war, to hear stories like this and Carrie’s War, to visit places like the IWM where they can actually meet an evacuee. That we don’t sanitise the problems that people experienced.
William is treated unkindly and unfairly, and has hurdles and difficult experiences to get through, but Mr Tom finds a way of talking to the child about it. In essence, Goodnight Mr Tom is the story of how a young boy and an elderly man heal each other.
One of the most satisfying things is seeing all ages enjoying the play together – a 7 year old sitting with an 87 year old. We’re very fortunate to have created something that appeals to such a wide age range and that brings people together.
We’re really looking forward to seeing Goodnight Mr Tom this winter, and are sure you must be too! Goodnight Mr Tom is at The Duke of York Theatre in London until 20 February 2016, then on to Manchester and 10 other UK theatres over the Winter and Spring.
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