Q & A with Director, Angus Jackson
Q – What made you want to direct Goodnight Mister Tom?
A – I think it’s good to do a show where a variety of people are going to see it. I was interested in it because my parents were evacuated and it’s something they talk about and this is a story set within that context. I’m always drawn to a high stakes story. For this boy, everything’s incredibly important, the stakes couldn’t be higher. He’s transported completely from one environment to another and he learns who he is all over again and escapes a very dark situation in what is a very touching story. I’ve got nieces and nephews, my parents talk to them about being evacuated and they don’t have any idea what they’re talking about. My son is 4 and my oldest niece is 8 and I really like the idea of children and grandparents going together to watch something that the grandparents experienced. I’ve talked to a lot of people from my parent’s generation who’ve been evacuated and I do think it’s an interesting and a fantastic thing.
Q – The story is set in London and the country village of Little Weirwold. How are you planning on staging Goodnight Mister Tom?
A – It’s incredibly important to get it right. Tom’s house is set next to this big rural church and then when you get back to London it’s much more about the people on buses and trains in a very urban environment. We need to stage something very fluid. One aspect that we can start with is the textures of the war, the marketing and posters saying “make do amend” and the items that everything was constructed from – the shelter made out of sheets of corrugated iron and the blacked out curtains are those textures which are really interesting. The great treat is that one of the lead characters is a dog so we are using a puppeteer from War Horse which I’m really looking forward to. You’ve got something fluid; you’ve got something where it’s populated and where the textures are important. That’s the plan!
Q – The show has a number of children in it including the protagonist William. Are you planning to have child actors in the show?
A – We are indeed! William and Zach are big roles and even from an early stage it was very important to us to have child actors who could be believable.
Q – The story has harrowing parts to it – depression, mourning and suicide. How do you feel about staging these and are you worried about conveying it right to a young audience?
A – It’s very interesting. I’ve asked some parents and children about this. What you find is that children of 10, 11 & 12 can absolutely take this sort of stuff on board and compute it and enjoy the cathartic nature of the story just as adults can. While you don’t want to do something that’s reductively unpleasant, you want to make it real and we have to remember that people died during the war. Children are used to that, they will read Harry Potter or the Pullman stories and they can relate to it once they are around 10 or upwards. You need to make it very truthful and not sensational. The really important thing that Michelle and David have done within the narrative is that for every dark moment that happens you get an upswing afterwards. There’s also redemption to it – some people survive, some people die but many people survive. In any Hollywood feature film, if someone dies, their love, their existence lives on in the person that they are closest to and that’s how life works.
Q – Why do you think Goodnight Mister Tom has been such a success?
A – Its fascinating isn’t it? The obvious answer is to say it’s a very personal story in an interesting environment, it has high stakes and it says something about how this nation was formed. William and Tom have both gone on massive journeys which are the building blocks of narrative structure and people really love it. I think it appeals across the ages. Michelle sets up a story where you think you know what’s going to happen and then she takes you to these extraordinary places you don’t expect. It’s an absolute phenomenon.
Q – Who do you think Goodnight Mister Tom appeals to?
A – A lot of people read it when they are 10 – 14 and equally when Michelle Magorian does talks where people in their 70s turn up, they really want to talk about it. Hopefully the parents of the children coming to see it can relate to the story and enjoy it as well. Grandparents taking their grandchildren is something that is very exciting as they will both get things out of the show. It’s quite an adult story set through the eyes of a child. Its appeal is considerable.