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Goodnight Mister Tom - A Review of the Neston Players' Production

Published: 8th November 2018 12:22

Rave reviews have flooded in for Neston Players' sold-out production of Goodnight Mister Tom.

Goodnight Mister Tom

On the first night, Sarah Collinge was in attendance to review the performance for AboutMyArea:

"The Neston Players production of the bittersweet story of a young London evacuee sent to the country and billeted with a reclusive widower was brilliantly brought to life by a terrific cast of actors who expertly portrayed life and experiences at the start of the 2nd World War

Charles Riley was absolutely convincing as Mr Tom and the young people playing the children were a joy to watch and brought some delicious ‘Famous Five‘ humour to the stage. And, not forgetting Sammy (the dog) who we all fell in love with!

Goodnight Mr Tom is the 5th play in Neston Players' Great War Centenary Project and is a superb and fitting finale to this already successful series of plays."

Editor's Note:  a stunning recap film can be viewed here, looking back on the entire Centenary Project by Neston Players.  Courtesy of Chat Noir Productions.

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This is the review from NODA (National Operatic and Dramatic Association):

"The high standard set by Neston Players was once again on display in their production of "Goodnight Mr Tom." It is the last in their series "Great Centenary War Project". Many might be surprised at the choice. It does not of course deal with the immediate action of the war itself but takes on a journey to the latter part of 1939, prior to and immediately after the start of the second world war.

A play by David Wood, it is based on the children's novel of the same name by Michelle Magorian. The play earned the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment and deals with the tribulations of an evacuee and its effect on the principal character "Mr Tom" an elderly curmudgeon who has lived alone in a country environment for forty years since the death of his wife and baby son. Scenarios, not unlike this could well have happened at the time when 1000s of children from different backgrounds were uplifted from the cities and taken to live in the country you might be struck by the story's debt to Oliver Twist; in both, a serially abused boy is rescued, and briefly lost, by a solitary senior.

Martin Riley has done a wonderful job in directing this piece. He had an excellent cast many of whom had to play several parts and his ability to handle the myriad characters in their different guises and situations was quite remarkable.

Unafraid to target and reach out to his emotions Adam Cusack as William touchingly conveys the flowering of the crushed child whose blossoming friendship with Zach gives him access to a world he has hardly dreamt of before. Zach another but entirely different evacuee, is played by Jack Sibbo whose outrageously over-the-top performance lights up the stage. Both of the boys created performances far in advance of their years . It is the relationship that William builds with Mr Tom and Zach which is the cornerstone of this excellent tale.
The eponymous here of the play was splendidly played by Charles Riley as Mr Tom. Totally in control of his role he was utterly believable in every aspect of the character. One cannot imagine that even such an actor as John Thaw who played it in the film version could have made a better fist of it; excellent.
Very valuable support came from Grace Prytherch, Annabel Jones and Kristopher Duffin as the local children. Called on to play more than one part they were all three strong in their characterisation despite their youthful ages. Far to go these three.

Conor Anderson, Pamela Button, Alan Alan Les Holland, Liz Jones Mandy Taylor and Jane Wing Wing covered much territory in playing various members of the local community, officialdom, Londoners, I loved the bus scene, and the lady who was Williams's mother. Congratulations to all of you.

I have saved my final cast word for Sammy the Dog and Puppeteer Ruth Stenhouse and it is MAGNIFICENT. An astonishing performance which must have been physically demanding bending over to hold and move such a large puppet but all the more when one sees every aspect of the Dogs behaviour re-enacted in the puppeteers face.

The costumes were great as was the clever way the set was designed In fact the whole backstage team did a fine job.

Well done to you all."

Here are some of the reviews posted on Neston Players' social media stream:

"All the plaudits for a fantastic production of GNMT are much deserved.

Just wanted to post as a parent of a new child performer, to say that I have been bowled over by the guidance, support, encouragement and friendship that he has received from fellow cast, production staff and NP members these last few months. Lovely to see such close bonds being made across the generations."

"Congratulations on another fantastic production, and completing a programme of commemorative plays with such style, dignity and respect."

"By far one of the best productions I have ever seen and could not believe it was amateur dramatics. We found the whole production mesmerising and was so impressed by the strong characters and talent. Well done!"

"To complete their circle of plays to commemorate remembrance, Neston Players presented David Wood's family play "Goodnight Mister Tom" - a charming and emotive story of a young evacuee who, at the hands of an abusive mother, is shy, uneducated and afraid but billeted with reclusive Tom Oakley the two find love in a father/son relationship which is a real tear jerker.

Wood's adaptation offers a mixed ensemble a variety of roles and gives an opportunity to five young people to really shine. It has multi locations so the action must be fluid, the set adaptable and it asks for music, singing and puppets!

Hats off to Neston forgiving us something a little different this November, which followed previous award winning productions of Accrington Pals 2014, My Boy Jack 2015, Henry V 2016 and King Country 2017.

Martin Riley‘s direction had the cast using the stage, floor and all entrances making it immediate and intimate to the full houses that attended. Occasionally the viewing was difficult if you were seated at the side or back but technically they tried to really create the scene - particularly effective was Paddington station where lighting, effects and movement worked so well.

The second Act, much darker, deals with physical abuse, neglect, a baby's death and touches on mental health , all these issues still so prominent today and were handled well within the drama touching the audience emotionally.

Charles Riley, who always gives such strong performances, brought an honest authenticity to the role of Tom. Young Adam Cusack showed versatility in the part of William, from the shy lonely boy to the bright confident lad he became. Jack Sibbon, as the likeable Zach, gave energy and enthusiasm and Kris Duffin, Grace Prytherch and Annabel Jones as the children and other parts showed confidence and ability.

The adult ensemble supported well in a number of roles as villagers and Londoners and Sammy the Dog (puppeteer Ruth Stenhouse) certainly won the hearts of the audience.

An enjoyable and emotional afternoon. Well done NESTON."

"What an absolute joy to watch. Congratulations to one and all involved. A standing ovation well deserved."

"Just wanted to say congratulations to everyone involved in The Neston Player's production of ‘Goodnight Mr Tom'. The whole evening was a heart-warming experience. The professional performance achieved was fantastic and reflects the time, effort and commitment you all give. We really are very fortunate to have you in our town!" 

"It was really good. Superb acting by all. Slick and atmospheric what a production. You should be very proud ."




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Angela C
At 09:58 on 11th November 2018, Angela C commented:
I came with my son to the Saturday matinee performance of Goodnight Mr Tom.We both thoroughly enjoyed the play and it seemed everyone else did also as the cast were given a well deserved standing ovation at the end.Thank you again Neston Players for another excellent and enjoyable afternoon's entertainment.

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