This year will mark the 35th anniversary of the modern classic Goodnight Mister Tom and next week Michelle Magorian’s wonderfully uplifting tale will be brought gloriously to life in a magical stage adaptation, in Cardiff from Tuesday May 10 – Saturday May 14 at the New Theatre.
Set during the dangerous build up to the Second World War, Goodnight Mister Tom follows young William Beech, who is evacuated to the idyllic English countryside and forges a remarkable and heart-warming friendship with the elderly recluse, Tom Oakley.
Author Michelle Magorian was inspired to write Goodnight Mister Tom after hearing her mother’s tales about her time as a nurse in the war. Published in 1981, it has been translated into 11 languages and won awards in the UK, America and Australia.
Adapted for the stage by David Wood OBE, Goodnight Mr Tom stars David Troughton, best known for his roles in A Very Peculiar Practice, Doctor Who and recently Tony Archer in The Archers on BBC Radio 4. Andy Howells recently chatted to David about Goodnight Mr Tom and his career.
I was asked to do it by Angus Jackson, the director, I thought about it, as it was a part I always wanted to play, so I said “Yes”.
How does the stage version compare to the TV film we all know and love which starred John Thaw?
Very different. Film and television are poles apart it’s a completely theatrical adaptation which is brilliant by David Wood. It’s a fast moving roller-coaster of emotions. I thought the film concentrated on Mr Tom, that’s how they did it, the stage version is about the children which is good.
How did you become familiar with the story?
When I first read it to my children in the 80s after it first came out. They had it read to them at school, so it’s been with us for a long time.
You’ve been an actor for many years yourself, were you a child actor?
I did one show when I was about eleven; it was an Armchair Theatre on ITV (The Tin Whistle Man). The scriptwriter Ken Taylor got me that and then I did a couple of things with my father (Patrick Troughton), in Doctor Who.
Did your father encourage you to be an actor?
(Laughs) No, not at all! I think you follow in your fathers footsteps a lot of the time, I think its in my genes to be an actor, two of my sons have become actors, my nephews an actor, my brothers an actor and my wife an actress.
What are your memories of appearing in Doctor Who with your father?
I was an extra in a story where he played two parts, The Doctor and a ruthless Mexican dictator (The Enemy of The World). They just found those episodes and you can see me in it. It’s a long time ago. I’ve been an actor for over 45 years I should get a medal for longevity! Playing different parts is the secret, not doing the same thing all the time.
It was lovely, he was such a welcoming man, very funny, but he took it very seriously which you have to. People take the rip out of Doctor Who sometimes but you’ve got to play it for truth.
Was there ever a role you were particularly keen to get?
When you read a script, you know you want to do the part; I really felt that with A Very Peculiar Practice (in which David starred alongside Graham Crowden and Peter Davison) and the role of Bob Buzzard. There was a lot of laughter because they were very funny scripts. As I say, you play it for all its worth and truth, it doesn’t stop you having a laugh because what’s the point of doing it unless you enjoy it.
You also had a contrasting role in New Tricks in which you played a bad guy. Was that fun to play?
Baddies are always good to play and you hope they are the most unlike you! I was termed as a character actor. You don’t get so much of that now because people cast to type, you’ve got to be the person; you’ve got to look like them. Gone are the days, like what my father did for television that you could put on a wig or a beard. People don’t do that now which is unfortunate.
And of course, even though you are very much your own actor, you have helped keep the torch burning for your fathers association with Doctor Who.
When he was doing it, it was just another children’s show, he was the first person to take over the character on screen but it wasn’t the big mammoth giant it is now.
You even stepped into your father’s role of the second Doctor opposite Tom Baker a few years ago in an audio adventure?
I did, they were a bit tentative in asking me and then I read the script, it wasn’t the actual Doctor. I was playing a robot version of him, that was alright (laughs), it was once removed. I’ve read stories that have had my father in it, so I have to imitate him a bit. I do love it, reading books, radio; you don’t have to learn the lines. I think he’d laugh at what I was doing really!
You last appeared in Doctor Who opposite David Tennant some years back, would you like to be in it again?
I’d love too!
Back on to Goodnight Mr Tom, how long are you continuing and what will you be doing afterwards?
After Cardiff, we finish at the end of May in Newcastle, I’ll have a little break and then I’ll go back to the RSC to play Gloucester in King Lear. It seems to be the year of Lear’s there’s about four of them knocking about and I’ll be in one of them!
Are there any roles you still haven’t played you’d like to have a go at?
Shakespeare-wise Falstaff or Prospero and any series that goes as long as Downton Abbey and be assured of seven months work a year and then I can retire.
- Goodnight Mr Tom runs at Cardiff’s New Theatre from May 10 –14. To purchase tickets please visit newtheatrecardiff.co.uk or call 02920 878 889.
- A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells appears in The South Wales Argus entertainment section The Guide on May 6, 2016