Ian Waller and his family enjoy a wonderful retelling of a classic children’s tale

When a family favourite is brought to the stage, there’s always the chance that it won’t somehow live up to expectations. Fortunately this was certainly not the case with Goodnight Mister Tom, which is about to start a five day run at the Mission Theatre in Bath.

This quite superb David Wood adapatation of the Michelle Magorian children’s novel is a wonderful example of creative, emotive and entertaining potential that exists within local theatre. Presented by the Next Stage and Next Stage Youth Theatre Company, the production tells the story of young William Beech, a wartime refugee from London who finds himself sent away to the country to be looked after by the reluctant and reclusive Tom Oakley. As the old man starts to develop an increasing fondness for the boy, so the youngsters deeply troubled background comes to the fore, calling on the care and love of his new community to help him through.

The success of this production is partly down to the professionalism and skill of this amateur troupe, and partly to the direction and creativity of the back stage crew. Front and centre throughout are Dave Dunn as Mr Tom and young Georges Boutin as William, both demonstrating real skill and emotion in their portrayals.

Georges’ character displays a vulnerability that is truly heartbreaking, a little boy coming from a hellish backstory to a confusing new world where even the kindness of strangers is initially offputting and alien. This is peformance of real talent and maturity which demonstrates a deep understanding of what young Tom feels and fears. Beside him, Dave Dunn’s Mr Tom is still able to shine, a genuinely moving performance that will place a lump in the throat of even the hardiest audience member. I challenge you not to shed a tear at the final couple of sentences of the play.

Alongside them, the cast as a whole carries the performance with an enthusiasm and energy that is impossible to not find engaging. While special credit must go to the ebullient Hugo Worrall as the loud, outgoing and extravagant Zacharias Wrench, praise must also go to everyone involved, not forgetting Lily Stiles putting in a sterling performance as Sammy the dog’s handler.

OK, yes, this wasn’t a seamless production, with very occasional stumbles and poor ennuciation sneaking in – after all, this is an amateur production featuring a cast largely made up of very young performers. However, even this couldn’t take away from the quality of the acting and energy that shone throughout, which at one part made me want to join in with the singing at a birthday party and the next feel the real emotion of some of the genuinely harrowing scenes from wartime London.

As a Bath person and keen theatre goer, I can’t believe that this was my first visit to the Mission Theatre. What a wonderful venue and what a wonderful production, and huge credit to the talented cast and crew for a family favourite that certainly did not disappoint.