Tom Gates – Review – Bradford Alhambra
By Sandra Callard, September 2019
Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates series of children’s books is a massive success. There are fifteen so far, and here we have a new story brought to the stage for Tom’s latest adventure and containing all the quirky characters from the books.
The production is by The Birmingham Stage Company, who are experts in creative children’s theatre, and the show is brought to life via the joint talents of Director Neal Foster, Author Liz Pichon, and an array of skilful costume designers, video makers and lighting and sound experts.
Tom is a schoolboy who has a penchant for trouble, at school, at home and through life in general – and the story concerns Tom’s efforts to wipe out his bad ‘gongs’ on the classroom board that mean he is banned from the exciting school trip to a biscuit factory (with samples galore).
Tom and his gang of friends are played by young adults in an engaging and believable manner, and Tom is brilliantly performed by Matthew Chase. I also particularly liked Ashley Cousins’ version of the sneaky and annoying Marcus Meldrew – he actually made me want him to fall into a ditch (see the play and you’ll know what I mean).
There are only five actors playing children, and they all pull it off with great panache, and are ably supported by the rest of the cast, including a roller skating granny and a Goth sister.
As all readers of Tom Gates will know, Tom is brilliant at doodling and creating graphics and this aspect is cleverly brought to life by animated sets and graphics which move about the stage in combination with the actors. It is remarkably effective in a stylish yet youthful way and I loved the way in which dad’s car, complete with children suddenly zoomed across the stage at full pelt, even though everything was animated except the actors. Part animation, part real people, it was brilliantly executed.
“Dancing in the aisles”
The second Act brought music to the stage as Tom and his friends don dark glasses and false hair, beards and other fuzz, to play a finale to the school. They are disguised, by the way, as a witness to one of their scrapes is in the audience. The song is ‘The Biscuit Song’ and is written by Tom in praise of the delicious confection (except fig biscuits) and sung with verve and gusto by him and his pals.
Their music is loud but foot-tappingly enjoyable and the children in the audience could contain their delight no longer and were up dancing in the aisles, shouting and singing along with delightfully unmusical voices.
This show was one hundred percent for the children, but there were many smiling adult faces too. The theatre was only half full, which was a great shame because the production deserved a full house, but the audience in situ made up for it with their appreciation and applause, particularly from the children, whose opinions were, after all, the only valid and bona fide judgement that counted.