Review: Goodnight Mister Tom, East Riding Theatre, Beverley, until January 6. Box office: 01482 874050 or at

YOU may recall the West End production coming to the Grand Opera House in York twice as it was so popular. East Riding Theatre's show is doing equally well: not a spare seat to be had on Saturday night, and a comments board by the front door full of positive feedback.

As with the NT, director Jake Smith uses David Wood's adaptation of Michelle Magorian’s source novel that will resonate equally with families, war veterans and evacuees.

Wood has created a beautifully observed, moving, humorous and uplifting script that draws in children and adults alike to this Second World War story of an abused, bullied, bruised London boy, William Beech (Joe Dawson, sharing the performance rota with Ben Ainsworth), an evacuee who slowly comes out of his shell under the care and tutelage of West Country village elder Tom Oakley.

Roger Alborough leads Smith's cast superbly as the gravel-voiced Dorset curmudgeon who “shut down” emotionally when his artist wife Rachel died from scarlatina, taking not only Rachel, but their new child and the light from his life.

Outwardly a curmudgeon he may be, but caring for William unlocks a heart and kindness that only Sammy, the play’s canine scene-stealer, has experienced. Sammy is a puppet courtesy of Hugh Purves, a sheepdog orchestrated by assorted cast members who voice and move the dog and, although constantly present, are somehow invisible too.

A combination of Wood's astute, assured writing and Smith's empathetic direction ensures that potentially difficult issues are handled sensitively yet with a sense of fear too, be it the first sight of William’s bruises; his cowering from a belt; or his enforced return from the country to his God-fearing, hypocritical, cruel mother (a searing performance by Sara Beharrell).

Set design by Ed Ullyart and lighting design by Simon Bedwell evoke the country idyll of 1939 Dorset, but nevertheless stalked by the war, as signified by fencing above. London, dark and dangerous, is under constant threat of bombing, with the air-raid shelter scene done particularly well, and Mrs Beech's dingy flat is darker still. This crushing, stymied, brutal place is a hell beyond war, and Dawson's performance is remarkable for one so young having to portray such mental scars.

Wood skilfully balances the grave, the tragic, the redemptive and the English-humoured in his two-hour adaptation, one that captures Magorian's passionate belief in the importance of education, new beginnings and making a difference for the benefit of others.

Dawson breaks your heart as William, while Joel Walker is terrific as a fellow evacuee, the exuberant Zach, a theatre-loving Jewish boy with a rainbow jumper and a bright, bold love of life to match.

Wartime songs and a finale of Christmas carols round out ERT's high-quality winter show.

Charles Hutchinson