David Wood’s adaptation of Michelle Magorian’s classic story is equally heartwarming as it is heartbreaking.
Angus Jackson has created a beautifully sad and affectionate production from David Wood’s adaptation of Magorian’s original book, allowing the characters and their backgrounds really stand out – simple but effective.
The story follows evacuee William Beech, who is moved to Dorset to live with the recluse Tom Oakley in a small village. From then on the audience watches both characters blossom and develop as their friendship grows – until Will’s mother calls him back home.
As well as being a story that can appeal to all ages, it is a way in which to get younger audience members engaging with British history and hard hitting topics such as war, religion and grief – all dealt with in a sensitive and understanding way that does not talk down to the children.
There are many instances that refer to the war – usually during a period when the villagers are in the middle of happiness and used as a stark reminder that no matter how far from the centre of things they are war can still reach out and effect them. These moments are used to great effect.
Occasionally it feels as though some of the scenes are a bit rushed and have an urgency about them that doesn’t give the audience enough time to process what is happening. Just by slowing it down a bit would give the audience an even greater understanding of the characters.
However, both Jackson and Wood have remained extremely faithful to the original book, breathing life into the characters that stay with you long after the show has finished. This is helped by the wonderfully natural performances of the young cast – particularly Freddy Hawkins as William, who blossoms from shy and introverted to bold and confident with ease and Harrison Noble as Zach – a full on character who always manages to put a smile on your face.
But the adult cast also deserve credit. David Troughton as Tom – determined at first not to get too affectionate for William can’t hold back and loves him as his own is wonderfully tender, despite this initial reluctance. Melle Stewart has two very contrasting characters to play and does well as Annie Hartridge who is instantly likeable. But it is her chilling performance as Mrs Beech that is particularly well performed – her insecurity, her staunch beliefs and her treatment of William send a chill down the spine.
It is a wonderful piece of drama that will have you smiling and crying equally, with plenty to keep the audiences engrossed from beginning to end.