REVIEW: TOM GATES (Richmond Theatre) ★★★★

Neal Foster of the Birmingham Stage Company, the specialists in bringing children’s books to the stage, has taken on the challenge of adapting Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates stories and yet again hits his target audience’s humour with unerring accuracy.

The Tom Gates books have been delighting children since 2011, with their cheeky humour and colourful artwork and so were ripe for a stage show that will be sure to attract younger audiences. Foster and Pichon have combined to draw different elements from some of the books and create a new story line that fits comfortably within the series.

Tom (Matthew Chase) has three sad faces on his achievement chart and one more will mean his misses the school trip. His great rival Marcus (Ashley Cousins) is determined to make sure he misses out so is happy to point out the many mistakes Tom makes to Mr Fullerman (Daniel Harkin). With the help of his friends, Amy (Amy Hargreaves), Derek (Matthew Gordon), and Norman (Justin Davies) Tom must somehow rescue the situation in time, whilst at home he has to help his Mum (Alice Redmond) and Dad (Harkin) get ready for his grandparent’s (Cousins and Gordon) wedding vow renewal whilst trying to upset his moody big sister Delia (Hargreaves) at every opportunity.

Naturally everything seems to go wrong, and Tom is constantly on the edge of disaster. Yet we all know that it will all turn out ok in the end, probably with enough time to end with a song or two!

Foster knows only too well how to reach his young audience and does so expertly. The story is huge fun and the pace is relentless. If you miss a joke, don’t worry there will be another one along directly. However, the real masterstroke is making the unique animation that is so central to the books a core part of the production. Pichon’s drawings are projected on to a big screen that forms the set allowing Tom’s art to come alive and play a huge role in the story. The clever moving set design with the projected animation will no doubt prove to work well, whatever the space available, as the production continues on tour.

The young cast all attack their parts with energy and gusto. Chase strikes exactly the right tone in capturing Gates and times his delivery and movement perfectly. Hargreaves is also impressive doubling up as miserable teen Delia and enthusiastic class swot Amy. They are ably supported by the two more experienced actors, Harkin and Redmond, who seem happy to give the younger performers space and join in with the fun when needed.

This production will certainly be enjoyed by fans of the book, and by other children with a sense of mischief. For the grown-ups also going along, make sure you leave your cynicism at the door and just join in with the fun, you really won’t regret it.

Reviewed by Kris Witherington
Photo: Mark Douet

INTERVIEW: Ashley Cousins talks about bringing Liz Pichon’s books TOM GATES to the stage

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