Southwick Players chose a difficult play for this year’s Brighton and Hove Arts Council Drama Awards.
Goodnight Mister Tom is a moving story, written for the stage by David Wood and based on the novel by Michelle Magorian.
The television film adaptation with John Thaw in the lead role is well known and may explain the capacity audience for judging night at The Barn Theatre, Southwick, on Thursday.
The Players’ new president, Harry Atkinson, was their choice for the lead, Tom Oakley, a bitter and lonely old man whose life is changed by the arrival of evacuee William Beech.
His performance was declared ‘fabulous’ by Trevor Jones, judging the awards for the second year running.
Equally fabulous where the two 12-year-old Worthing lads, Henry Andrews as William and Thomas Scott as his new found friend Zach, both making their debut with the Players.
Henry gave a very moving performance as the shy evacuee who has been tormented by his mother and Thomas was brilliant as the exuberant Zach.
Louise Yeo told Trevor afterwards that she had found the role of Mrs Beech difficult, as it involved beating a child, but she give a brilliant portrayal of William’s cruel yet disturbed parent.
There were, indeed, excellent performances throughout the cast, from the facial contortionist H Reeves, who slipped easily between each of his three roles, and the sweet-voiced Sharon Churchill, who was recognised for her moving song in the air raid shelter, to the children playing the evacuees, taken from London to Dorset.
There were few problems with the performances, in fact, but there were some issues with the set and the scene changes, which Trevor picked up on.
Director Ron Common chose to have the cast moving the props, which must have put extra strain on them in a play that has so many different scenes. This would have been fine, I think, but having made that decision, it seemed odd to keep dimming the lights for the set changes.
A final word must go to Sammy, the dog, with Jenny Burtenshaw as puppeteer. It was the star of the show, it seemed, getting the largest applause and the greatest of praise from Trevor.
There is no doubt Jenny did her job well, giving Sammy real character, but I found it omnipresent, detracting from the main action, and the fact it was greeted with huge hilarity just did not ring right.