EXCLUSIVE: Interview with David Troughton, star of “Goodnight Mister Tom”
Goodnight Mister Tom is now a modern classic. Michelle Magorian’s wonderfully uplifting tale will be brought gloriously to life in a magical stage adaptation by David Wood. 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. All is perfect until William is suddenly summoned by his mother back to London.
The Olivier award-winning Chichester Festival Theatre production of Goodnight Mister Tom returns to London this Christmas. MuggleNet had the opportunity to interview David Troughton, who stars as “Mister Tom” Oakley and is Harry Melling‘s (Dudley Dursley) uncle.[divider] Goodnight Mister Tom has been twice adapted as a musical, once as an award-winning film, and now has been brought to the stage by David Wood. What do you think makes Goodnight Mister Tom so special?
David Troughton: When I first read it I was reminded of The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. Goodnight Mr. Tom is a simple story about love, kindness, brutality, grief, forgiveness and redemption. It takes the reader or audience on a roller coaster ride through a myriad of emotions from joy to utter despair.
The countryside’s relative calm and the harsh reality of wartime London is beautifully and truthfully conveyed, with characters being readily identifiable both by young and old.
It is both shocking and exhilarating, happy and sad, but in the end, wonderfully uplifting. What more could a story want! And that is why it will continue to be such a success with people of all ages, both on the page and in the theatre.
What preparation have you done for your role?
DT: No special preparation. Only what I would normally do when taking on any role.
I have, of course, read the book again. I used to read it to my young sons when they were growing up. Also, I have done some research into the wartime Britain of 1939, evacuees, and what it must have been like to live through such dangerous times.
Last month I was in Somerset working on The Levelling, a film about a bereaved dairy farmer struggling to come to terms with the aftermath of the devastating floods of 2014. Being surrounded by a West Country accent and the countryside atmosphere has certainly helped.
You’ve worked in a range of media, including television, films, radio plays, and the stage. Is there anything about performing in front of a live audience that you particularly enjoy?
DT: Making an audience laugh. There’s no better feeling. And not just making them laugh, but also making them laugh when you want them to, not when they want to. Sacrificing three little laughs to get one big laugh. Keeping control of an audience in this way is an extremely hard thing to do, but if it works, it is supremely satisfying.
Goodnight Mister Tom features a number of children, including William Beech, the protagonist. Do you enjoy working alongside child actors? Is it challenging?
DT: Enjoyable and challenging at the same time. Children are very quick on the uptake, but the employment laws, quite rightly, limit their hours of working. This shortens the actual rehearsal time the adult actors have with them.
There are two lead children in Goodnight Mr. Tom, but we have three pairs of children to play them. Each pair will take it in turns to play on different nights. So in rehearsal, everything has to be done three times, which makes for a much longer process.
Your father, younger brother, and two of your sons are actors, and our readers know your nephew, Harry Melling, in his role as Dudley Dursley. What is it like living with such a theatrical family?
DT: One would think it would be a nightmare with so many actors in the family, but from my point of view it is extremely satisfying to see all of them going their own ways and forging their separate careers. We are all delighted for each other when one or other of us of lands a part and very sympathetic when nothing comes along! It’s also good to be able to encourage each other and learn from each other’s mistakes and successes.
Charades at Christmas, though, can be a bit competitive!
Do you have any advice for young people who may be thinking about a career as an actor?
DT: Only consider this crazy profession if you are absolutely 100 per cent sure that it is what you have to do – not need, not want – but have to do. And that no amount of persuasion by other people will deter you from that aim. The road can be hard but the rewards are great![divider]
Goodnight Mister Tom plays at the Duke of York’s Theatre from 11 December until 21 February, then tours the UK until May 2016. goodnightmistertom.co.uk
Have you read Goodnight Mister Tom? What’s your favourite play? Have you thought about pursuing a career as an actor? Let us know in the comments!