1 Aug

By David Wood
Adapted from the book by Michelle Magorian
At the Southwark Playhouse

This play begins with a crowd of children singing ‘Wish me Luck as you wave me goodbye’ It is 1939 and London children are being evacuated to the country to escape the war. The singing of the children immediately creates an atmosphere, especially as they have their gas mask boxes and labels around their necks. Some of them are afraid, some excited, none are as sad as the parents who are saying goodbye to their children for who knows how long.
Some of these children were unfortunate, being turned into slaves by the people who were meant to nurture them. They were made to do housework and work in the fields and were not treated as part of the families.
David Wood’s quite brilliant play tells the story another way round. Tom Oakley is a crusty old widower who lost both his wife and his newly born child many years ago and has become a recluse. He has, billeted on him a little boy .William, who has been abused by his bible thumping mother. Tom finds this out by seeing the bruises on the boy as he gets dressed for bed and from at the contents of the boys luggage which contain a bible and a cruel belt obviously used for beating him.
We see the boy gradually warming to the country people and it is devastating for him when his mother sends for him to come back to London
The story is blisteringly honest and we are torn apart by what is done to the boy in the name of religion. This is great drama and it is beautifully performed.
What is totally surprising is that it is being acted out by children of the British Theatre Academy. They are well known for producing light hearted musicals, but this is real stuff and the leading characters seize their roles with both hands and are utterly convincing.
The Press night performance has James Sampson as the grumpy but kind recluse Tom Oakley and an enormously appealing Evan Huntley-Robertson as the little boy William The leading roles are shared among the children with a different cast each night. There are actually four Williams in the company, but having seen this one it is hard to see how it could be performed better. The other starring role is that of Zack – a comedy characterisation by Felix Hepburn who plays a boy whose parents are actors and he bounces around quoting lines from Shakespeare whenever appropriate. Again, during the run he is one of four actors playing the role.
It plays at the Southwark Playhouse until 25th August and is directed by Jo Kirkland for the British Theatre Academy – a remarkable organisation which gives children the opportunity to work in a professional environment with theatre professionals in every aspect of the business.

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