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Thirsk School

& Sixth Form College

    Goodnight Mister Tom

    The school production for February 2015 was 'Goodnight Mister Tom', based on the well-loved children's book by Michelle Magorian. After months of rehearsals, including a visit from Gary Carpenter, the show's composer, the students gave a very slick and professional performance, moving many audience members to tears. See below for a slide show of stills from the show and a review written by Mr Hollis, Assistant Headteacher.

     "Goodnight Mister Tom is one of Britain’s favourite books for children, with strong characters, an emotional but ultimately uplifting narrative, and a clear sense of the complexities of being alive during the Second World War. Whenever a popular book is brought to the stage or screen, it faces considerable pressure; the locations and personalities of the story have been so clearly evoked in people’s imaginations that seeing them in the flesh can often be a shock or surprise. When you have a story like this, which is so important to so many people, it is crucial to get it right.

    Thirsk School’s production of the musical Goodnight Mister Tom comprehensively got it right. By the end of the evening there was barely a dry eye in the house as a lavish show came to a climax. This was an extremely strong piece of musical theatre, with a superb ensemble that backed moving performances from the principal cast. Ann Percival’s direction and vision should be praised for taking on a tough brief and delivering it comprehensively.

    From the first scenes you got a sense of what was to come, as we found ourselves at a crowded Paddington station. George Gibson’s solo singing led in to the whole cast displaying the varied emotions of sending a child away to the safety of the unknown countryside. On a busy stage, there was clear evidence that every individual was acting their socks off, preparing the audience for the shock of how young William Beech was to be treated, first by his mother, and then by his bullying peers. The direction here evoked sympathy on many levels, first for the parents, then for the children, and lastly, for poor William. This neatly set up the whole production, as we were on William’s side from that moment, especially as he was eventually deposited with a grumpy, rude  and antisocial old man.

    One key feature of this early scene, and of the rest of the show, was the strength of the ensemble cast. Wherever the story took us, be it a playground, a bomb shelter or a busy London bus, there was a sense that everybody on stage knew their role, and played it to the full. One of the hardest jobs of a director is to cast a production. Judging by the way in which the chorus performed, there were many potential stars on the stage, and it was great to see so many students involved. In particular, I would single out the consistent performance of Tori Whitley, whose energy and enthusiasm led the group extremely positively, and Sophie Holt, who is clearly somebody to watch in the future.

    Following William’s arrival in the village of Weirwold, the show then progressed through a series of character metamorphoses. Young William, encouraged by friends, proper education and a bit of love, became an increasingly confident and happy individual who could show off his talent for art with confidence. Alongside this Tom Oakley, who took him in, gradually unwound as he developed affection for his young charge and became more involved in the village around him. The toughest thing for an actor to portray is change in a character, as you first have to establish one idea, and then develop and evolve it over the course of a production. Alfie Dickson, playing William Beech, did this superbly, using his whole body to show the curled up, almost craven nature of William’s personality at the beginning, and then slowly unwinding as the show progressed. By the end his shoulders were back, he was looking out and was a totally new person, creating much of the emotional response from us in the audience. This, combined with note perfect singing of some pretty tough music, shone out. At the same time, Josh Crouch as Mister Tom showed a similar development as his character relaxed, whilst at the same time maintaining a comic personality that was enjoyed by all.  Both Alfie and Josh were excellent. The enormously strong performances of these two lead roles was an exceptional aspect of this production.

     If this was a story about the power of friendship, then this theme was best epitomised by William’s relationship with fellow evacuee Zach, played by Jake Brewer with considerable aplomb. Jake’s unrelenting positivity and extravagant exuberance added another comic layer to the production, and was signaled from his entrance in a fabulous, colourful jumper. Jake has had an illustrious career in Thirsk musicals, but he has finished on an enormous high. In a productions that dealt with heavy themes, Jake provided the fun, and it was notable that his songs were the most melodic and showy throughout. In particular his high kicking number at the end of Act One rightly brought the house down. 

    As the show entered the second act it was time to return to war torn London, with William being forced to return to his mother. The fun and friviality of act one was forgotten as the show became more moody and complex. Every good musical needs a baddie, and Gemma Reynard was outstanding as Mrs Beech, showing a malavalent menace in everything that she did, whilst also singing beautifully. Gemma portrayed a character wracked with complex issues and psychological problems, and did it very convincingly. Her performance added a neat balance to the show and should be highly commended.

    Mrs Beech’s treatment of William is in clear contrast to the love and support he received in Weirwold, and it is with considerable relief that he is eventually rescued by Mister Tom. However, even this moment is tinged with tragedy, as we witness the death of Zach, and a harrowing series of nightmare scenes in the hospital, as William is put through the ringer by the cruelly clinical Madison Coleman, Isabel Wadsworth and Megan Law. None of this lends itself to a typical jazz-handed musical ending, and so there rightly was none. Instead the production ended with young William, eventually safe, calling Mister Tom ‘dad.’ As a theatrical moment there could be no more appropriate climax to a production that had started with such a sense of unpleasantness and family dislocation. As the house lights went up, it was clear from the number of red eyes in the audience, that the ending had been particularly poignant for many people.

    Overall this was a fabulous production. The music was complex and lacking in the obvious show stopping tunes that characterise most musical theatre, meaning that the cast and band had to work extremely hard. The musicians were excellent, and Owain Pierce- Williams deserves a lot of credit for his faultless direction of the music. The technical side of the show was equally good, with clear sound and a clever use of projected images to set the scene. I have only been at Thirsk for a term and a half, but throughout that time many people have told me to expect great things of the musical. I had been told that last year’s production of ‘Oh What A Lovely  War’ would be an extremely hard act to follow. However, Ann Percival has pulled it off. This was a superb piece of theatre and everybody involved in it should be congratulated."