Goodnight Mister Tom: Interview with Oliver Ford Davies

The Argus: Oliver Ford Davies as Tom Oakley. Photo by Catherine Ashmore Oliver Ford Davies as Tom Oakley. Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Like David Wood, Oliver Ford Davies was an unwitting evacuee as a child.

"I wasn’t an evacuee in the sense of having a label around my neck," he says from the royal retiring room at the Phoenix Theatre, where he has just finished a matinee performance playing the titular role in Goodnight Mister Tom.

"I grew up in Ealing and was there for the Blitz as a baby. My mother, brother and I evacuated ourselves to Dorset, because we knew people running a family farm who offered us a cottage rent-free.

"We were there for two years, my earliest memories when I was three or four are of the pump, the kitchen range and the old lamps.

"It’s hard to get into the mindset of my parents – there was a strong likelihood that we would lose the war, particularly if the US couldn’t be encouraged into it. "If Hitler had determined to go west rather than east he could have conquered Britain early on in the war. It’s hard to imagine what my parents were going through."

He had seen firsthand some of the casualties arising out of the Second World War.

"We know of the terrible losses in the trenches in the First World War, and the shellshock," he says.

"But we forget the terrible traumas people suffered in the Second World War. A friend of my father’s came back from the Second World War and never had a job for 40 years because he had shellshock. There was no help offered to him."

Ford Davies is probably best known for his role as Peter Foxcott in Kavanagh QC, opposite the man who would immortalise Tom on the screen version of Goodnight Mister Tom.

He also played the role of Governor of Naboo, Sio Bibble, in the Star Wars prequels, and took the role of Polonius opposite David Tennant in the 2009 Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet.

He was attracted to the role of Tom because of the journey the character goes on through the play.

"I can’t fully imagine what it was like to be a man who has been a recluse for 40 years," he says.

"It’s hard to imagine what the death of his wife would do to him, but then it is hard to imagine a ten-year-old boy with a seriously damaged mother being abused in that way.

"The play is a very optimistic view of humanity – that two people can be thrown together who have both been abused in different ways but can grow and blossom together and come to love one another."

The roles of William Beech and his best friend Zach are played by three teams of two young actors, adding an extra element to the role.

"During the rehearsals they were all there, they were all given the same direction," he says. "Now they don’t see each other, and have all developed their characters in different ways.

"The three Williams are quite different – one comes across as quite cocksure, another is a little cowed, you have to adjust to each. It’s a bit like playing Brutus with a different Cassius each week! "Angus has encouraged me to say things to the boys – so I’m trying to be helpful without knocking their confidence. I have to stop myself from saying to them: ‘So-and-so did this last week’."

Also thrown into the mix of working with children was a scene-stealing puppet animal.

"The dog seems quite real to me," he laughs. "I’m not allowed to look at Elisa [the puppeteer] so I relate to the dog. I’m aware that the children relate very much to the three of us.

"Elisa is very conscious that she doesn’t get between the audience and the dog – we had to do some quite fine adjustments in rehearsal."

  • Goodnight Mister Tom is at Theatre Royal Brighton, New Road, from Tuesday, February 19, to Saturday, February 23. Shows start at 7pm, with matinees on Wednesday and Thursday at 1pm and Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets from £10/£8. Call 0844 8717650

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