Interview: Goodnight Mister Tom

Richard Sockett talks to Edition about playing the titular role

One of the best-loved children’s books of all time, Goodnight Mr Tom will be brought beautifully to life on stage next month in a production from the acclaimed Cambridge Theatre Company. Taking place at the Great Hall at The Leys, the show uses David Wood’s musical adaptation of the book – recently a huge West End hit – and runs 20-23 December.

Many will be familiar with the story, which is set in England on the brink of the Second World War and follows the unlikely and heart-warming friendship between timid William Beech and grouchy recluse Mister Tom. We caught up with Richard Sockett (above), who plays Mister Tom, ahead of the show. 

Q. Goodnight Mister Tom is a modern classic, loved by young and old and adapted many times for stage, screen and radio. What do you think gives the story such enduring appeal?  

A. It’s a timeless story of learning to love another human being, in William’s case for the first time and, for Mister Tom, to find the courage to love again after loss. It brilliantly captures the bond known to every parent and child all set at time when your loved ones could die at any moment, and indeed there are five deaths that are key to the plot, yet ultimately it is the uplifting message of love conquering tragedy and how we value each other that speaks to us.

Q. How has the process of becoming the grouchy (to begin with at least!) Mister Tom been? 

A. As in every David Wood play the text is your friend so I am relying on his genius and trying to say the lines truthfully, plus I wear a worried expression at the moment which is me trying to remember what comes next!

Q. The role was famously played by John Thaw – did his portrayal influence yours at all?  

A. What impressed me about John Thaw’s portrayal was his stillness and simplicity, making us wonder what tragic secret he was hiding and it was that which drew us into his world. If I can capture elements of that honesty and stillness on stage for our audience I will have done my job.

Q. There are some very dark parts of the story – is it a challenge to convey these while keeping the play child-friendly?  

A. Children experience fear, jeopardy and death within fairy tales from a very young age, and with the clever pen of David Wood these issues are handled with sensitivity and are essential to the telling of the story. 

Many moons ago I was privileged to be the first to play the role of Mr Mussel in David Wood’s The Selfish Shellfish, a powerful and moving tale of environmental disaster, which climaxed with the death of a key character and the young audiences were moved in a very similar way to how I saw them moved in the West End by Goodnight Mister Tom.

Q. When did you start rehearsing and how has the production been coming together so far?

A. We have been rehearsing for a month and it’s a wonderful experience with a company spanning 50 years in age all bringing their imagination and talent to the telling of this beautiful story.

Q. Is this your first production with Cambridge Theatre Company and how has the experience been? 

A. Yes, my first and, unless I mess up, hopefully not my last! I am loving the experience of working with Cambridge Theatre Company.

Tickets are £9-£14 and can be booked via the Cambridge Theatre Company website.