WHEN Michelle Magorian, author of bestseller Goodnight Mister Tom, was asked about writing songs for a musical version she replied, "No. It'd be too sentimental". I must admit, I agreed with her.
North Devon All Starz proved us both wrong with a fantastic, all-singing all-dancing spectacle that took the underlying emotion and tension of the book and turned it into a feast for the senses. Mister Tom Oakley, played by 17-year-old James Talbot, (in a grey wig of course, he is far from looking like a pensioner), gave us a Mr Tom who, unlike in the book, was open about his feelings from the outset.
A recurring dream, where his departed wife danced before him while he sang of his love, brought theatricality to the book's sub-plot which explained his moping demeanour.
Twelve-year-old Ben Davis was cast perfectly as William Beech, and the Braunton Academy student sang like the frightened, tormented bird that Beech undoubtedly is. As the bullied, nervous Beech blossomed into a confident, popular kid, Davis's voice grew louder and his presence bolder. We were gunning for Beech; we wanted him to win. Davis stirred that in us.
And this was helped in no small part by Luke Stone of Chulmleigh College. His character, Zacharias Wrench, is the flamboyant wannabe performer who inspires the confidence in William.
As Stone set the stage alight with his pitch-perfect singing, twinkle-toed dancing and larger-than-life personality, it was easy to see why he got the part. He brought out the best in the cast around him, was a pleasure to watch and easy to imagine as a West End regular in the future. Theatre clearly runs in his veins.
A good production has many parts, however, and the All Starz really did have them all. Kathryn Turnbull did a sterling job as William's troubled mother, and the supporting cast were excellent singers and dancers who didn't miss a beat. Among them were youngsters who have obvious stage presence and talent. It will be worth watching future All Starz productions to see them develop.
Such talent, however, is useless without firm direction and leadership. Director Tolley Angell is the man with a plan in this operation, and he has whipped this crew into a shape that seems to have formed effortlessly. And then there's the musical director Anneli Talbot and choreographer Helen Cole, who were responsible for slick, perfectly-timed performances from youngsters who seemed like veterans. Such confidence and ability to make it all look easy comes not only through hard work, but through the guidance of these leaders.
And last but not least, kudos to those behind the scenes for bringing a great literary work to the theatre stage. Michelle Magorian, I'm sure, could not have wished for a better treatment of her wonderful story.