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Review: Goodnight Mister Tom at Sunderland Empire

EVEN if I hadn’t been introduced to the art of puppetry by this show’s puppet director, Toby Olié, I would have been fascinated by Sammy, Tom Oakley’s Border collie.

EVEN if I hadn’t been introduced to the art of puppetry by this show’s puppet director, Toby Olié, I would have been fascinated by Sammy, Tom Oakley’s Border collie.

Almost from the instant he bounded on stage under the control of puppeteer Elisa de Grey I was willing to believe that Sammy was real, so true to life were his movements and growls.

So if the puppet dog was captivating, what about the people in this story of human nature in its most extreme forms of kindness and cruelty?

Alan Vicary puts in a sterling performance as the dour recluse Tom, and is supported by an excellent ensemble class including Georgina Sutton who gives a remarkable performance as the theatrical Miss Thorne.

At times I could have done with a bit more “loud voice”, as my young daughter would say, but it was good to see that adults hadn’t been given the children’s roles.

I can’t compare the stage production to the John Thaw TV film, but David Wood’s adaptation of Michelle Magorian’s book is very true.

Wood deals in “suddenlies” and this play is staged in short, sharp scenes so as to retain the attention of even the most wander-prone mind.

He doesn’t shy away from the novel’s dark elements and Tom’s grief, with the graves of his wife and son at the front of the stage, is certainly not skated over.

And when Second World War evacuee William returns to London the entire set lifts up menacingly like a tomb in which to bury him and his baby sister.

Rather like the novel, this is a heartfelt play packed full of emotion, nostalgia, sadness and humour.

Looking at my fellow audience members, it was clear that a simple story of love and kindness overcoming hate and fear can cross any generational boundaries.

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