Studio Theatre, Ashley Road Salisbury

Tickets: Salisbury Information Centre, Fish Row, Salisbury Phone: 01722 342860 or from

Goodnight Mr Tom

Anne Waggott wrote on Scene One+ that:

From the moment I walked through the doors of the auditorium, I felt transported into a rural setting as I was greeted by a deceptively simple, yet impressive, two-tiered set.

[The play] focuses intently on the relationship between two ‘damaged’ characters, grief-stricken widower Tom and neglected, abused William, so much rests on the quality of performances from the principal actors. Alistair Faulkner plays Tom with less of the curmudgeonly aspect but with a gentler, warmer and more protective nature than I have seen portrayed in previous productions, choosing more to be secluded as a means of coping with his all-encompassing grief than innately bad tempered, and I found this side of his character to be absolutely charming and very engaging. He forms a believable and endearing connection with James Cates as William, who gives a captivating performance as he reflects the trauma that William experiences, his spirit and courage, and overwhelming need for love, affection and protection.

There are three main characters throughout this play: Tom, William – and Sammy, the dog. I have seen a few productions of Goodnight Mister Tom over the years; all have had puppets depicting Sammy – but none have been as convincing and adorable as this one. It’s not just the fact that this puppet was made by a professional puppet maker (on loan from Cambridge Theatre Company) so looks like a beautiful border collie, but the incredible skill from Tom Morath to effectively breathe life into this lovable creature as he portrays the loyal canine relationship between the dog, Tom and William. Despite Morath obviously being present with Sammy throughout, the way he handles the puppet means that Sammy becomes an integral organic character and is mesmerizing.

There are lighter moments amongst the tension, pathos and poignant drama, and no-one embraces that more in this production than Ollie Boyle as William’s fellow evacuee, flamboyant and artistic Zach; his boundless energy, effervescence, comic timing and joie de vivre has the audience laughing aloud at his character’s exploits and his performance is a delight.

With Faulkner, Cates and Boyle the only actors to portray single characters, this is truly an ensemble production and there no weak links at all. Every cast member has their moments to shine, but never to the point of detracting from anyone else; with distinct characterizations, there are ample opportunities for the cast to show their versatility and they do this with proficiency and panache, most notably Emma Way, George Cotterill, Tamsin Jacson and Morath (with a brief cameo as David as well as the larger role of ‘handling’ Sammy).

Original music from Pam Edmund and first-class direction from Bates ensures that the narrative and locations flow, scene changes are smooth and the pace is almost perfect (just a few instances of pre-empting what is about to happen next), with a subtle yet noticeable alteration in speed between country and city settings.

The full review is at Scene One+

The Fine Times Recorder writes that

Set in the “phony war” of 1939 and the subsequent war years, Goodnight, Mr Tom (adapted from the novel by Michelle Magorian) is the story of a reclusive old farmer, Tom Oakley (Alistair Faulkner), living with his beloved sheepdog Sammy (with puppeteer Tom Morath) in a Dorset village, who unexpectedly agrees to take in an evacuee, as do other local families. The child, William (the wonderful James Cates), is frightened of everything, has terrible bruises, has never heard birds sing or met a dog and has never been loved.

William gradually makes friends, learns to read, meets extravert fellow evacuee Zach (exuberant Ollie Boyle), the son of actors, and discovers the joys of a welcoming rural community, acting and the experience of being loved. It is achingly sad, sometimes funny, feels deeply honest and tears at your heart-strings. It is so much more than a sentimental wartime story – it is a tale of child abuse, religious bigotry, open-hearted kindness, and two lost souls who (for one very late in life) find real happiness.

Not a dry eye in the house, but at this time of year generally – and in an age of climate crisis, vainglorious buffoon politicians and widening gaps between rich and poor – its message is one of hope and keeping faith with the best in human nature.

A simple, flexible, two-level set is, by turns, Mr Tom’s cottage, the village church, the village hall, a London station, the underground, Will’s mother’s house in Deptford and a hospital. The large cast play multiple roles, villagers, Cockneys, nurses, schoolchildren and more. Special praise to Tamsin Jacson, whose various roles included the important but ghastly part as William’s mother.

Congratulations to director Lesley Bates and her great cast (and backstage crew) for another memorable night at Studio Theatre.

The full review is at: Goodnight, Mr Tom, Studio Theatre, Salisbury | Fine Times Recorder

The Salisbury Journal wrote:

Two twelve-year-olds from Salisbury take centre stage at Studio Theatre in Ashley Road from December 6 when the amdram company begins its sold out run of Goodnight Mister Tom.

James Cates, a Year 8 pupil at the Burgate School, plays evacuee William Beech, who finds himself billeted with reclusive Tom Oakley and his dog Sammy in a Dorset village at the start of the Second World War.

Playing William’s friend Zach is Ollie Boyle, who attends Trafalgar School and is a member of Studio’s youth theatre.

Two other members of Studio Youth Theatre, Alfie Munro and Martha-Rose Mckeown, join them in the cast as evacuees, which also features newcomers Shannan Read and Rebecca Horne.

Tom Oakley, famously portrayed by John Thaw in the television adaptation, is played by Alistair Faulkner, a familiar face to Studio audiences for the many leading roles he has played for the company.

The play by David Wood, based on the classic children’s story by Michelle Magorian, focuses on the relationship that develops between bullied, abused evacuee William and widower Tom.

Pushed together by wartime necessity, these two damaged souls flourish, until a letter from William’s mother demands his return to London.

Full review at: