Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


Chris McHugh as Zach dancing with Hannah Joiner as Miss Miller at a meeting of the village amateur dramatic society

Goodnight Mr Tom

Sutton Arts Theatre


Michelle Magorian’s award winning children’s novel is brought to vibrant life in this splendid production at Sutton Arts Theatre.

Set on the eve of World War II it tells the tale of William Beech from Deptford who joined the 800,000 children evacuated in September 1939 as war with Hitler loomed.

He found himself billeted with Tom Oakley, a somewhat reclusive and grumpy old man in the village of Little Weirwold, which, with its fields and wildlife, is a whole new world to a lad from the south east London docklands.

William is under-nourished, possessing just the thin clothes he is wearing, covered in bruises and mentally scarred by a mother who lost touch with reality a long time ago, replacing it with fire and brimstone religion, seeing sin and the need to punish in the most innocent of events.

War and evacuations throw up the most unlikely pairings but the grumpy old widower and the maltreated and uneducated William have one thing in common, a need to love and be loved.

The play depends upon the pair; if they are believable, then the rest falls easily into place, and the fact that we feel for them and care about them long before the end says it all. The dependable Paul Viles is an understated Tom, a man who prefers brusque to chit chat, who finds himself lumbered with an evacuee, yet we see in their first encounter that beneath the unsmiling, unwelcoming host lurks a kindly old man.

His quiet, unemotional manner contrasts well with his anger as he deals with the authorities after he rescues William who had been called home by his mother. As the relationship develops it creates its own moving moments in the second act and you can feel the emotion in Viles performance.

Tom and Will

Toby  Gretton as William and Paul Viles as Tom


The same can be said of Toby Gretton as William. Toby, aged 14 from Burntwood and a pupil at Birmingham Ormiston Academy, produces a remarkable performance for one so young as the nine-year-old troubled evacuee, taken in by Mr Tom, as he calls him. Poor William is first made fun of but then befriended by the village children. We see him bewildered and friendless as he arrives, then traumatised by his mother and finally grief stricken at loss. All convincing as he gives us a little lad who tugs at the heart strings.

Toby is just one of the children in the cast though with Chris McHugh coming close to stealing the show as the over the top (by quite a margin) son of actor parents Zach who can spout Shakespeare or poetry at the drop of a hat and truly believes all the world’s a stage whith him a leading player.

Then there is George, played by Dan Sanders, who takes the mickey out of William until his mum catches him, then becomes his friend. Carrie and Ginnie played by Naomi Steele and Megan Johnson complete the gang of five living what had become an idyllic life in the country.

It couldn’t last in war though and even a country village, miles from any possible target for German bombers, cannot escape the conflict completely, with the dreaded telegrams shattering the tranquillity.

There is good support from Sutton regular Phebe Jackson as both kindly teacher Annie Hartridge and Mrs Beech, William’s unhinged mother.

Louise Farmer pops up as the Welsh billeting officer, the village doctor and a railway ticket collector as well as a hospital sister, while Kate Lowe is a nurse and Miss Thorne, and Dominic McDonough manages Annie’s pilot husband David, the vicar and a London Bobby.

Christina Peak weighs in with George’s mum Mrs Fletcher, Glad, the friendly woman in the Deptford air raid shelter and a visiting social worker while Nick Snowden is an ARP warden and child psychiatrist Dr Stelton and Carl Horton runs the village post office as Mr Miller when he is not a London ARP warden.


Leah Solmaz  with Sammy was Tom argues with Dr Stelton played by Nick Snowden in the London Hospital treating William

Their multiple roles are worth mentioning if only to say how well defined they were. Not once, unless you knew them well, would you have known it was the same actor in different roles without looking in the programme. They might be support roles but they were all well done.

A mention too for Leah Solmaz as Sammy, the sheepdog, Leah being the puppeteer. It is not the easiest of roles particularly as you spend most of your time on stage stooping, yet, as with War Horse, your mind soon blots out the puppeteer – sorry Leah – and you start to see just the dog, which is a compliment to her making the puppet – made by Victorian Model Worskhop incidentally – seem authentic.

I always marvel at the ingenuity of the sets at Sutton Arts with a stage with no wings and no flies and designers Jeff Darlow and Rosemary Manjunath have done a clever job using the stage apron for a churchyard and utilising a series of flats on castors with opening walls and limited props with period songs and music to jolly along scene changes – they have even managed a person-wide set for William’s London home hidden behind a vertical blind at the rear.

With so many scenes utilising every area of stage David Ashton has done a good job with lighting to pick out areas or poignant moments and with plenty of sound cues Wanda Harris and Rod Bissett on sound and Suzy Donnelly on lights have to be on their toes.

Director Rosemary Manjunath has kept her large cast in check, controlling the pace and the emotion well, for, after all, this was a book and, adapted by David Wood, a play which unashamedly plays on the emotions and in this fine production, it more than succeeds. Cracking piece of  theatre. To 09-09-17.

Roger Clarke


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