Grand Opera House York – until 9 November 2019
Reviewed by Michelle Richardson
Based on the bestselling books by Liz Pichon, Tom Gates Live on Stage, is bought to the stage by the same producers who gave us Horrible Histories and Gangsta Granny.
It tells the story of Tom (Matthew Chase), who is trying to keep his nose clean at school, after receiving so many sad faces on the school achievement chart. He is in dangerous water, one more sad face and he won’t be able to go on the next school trip. No matter how hard he tries, things just seem to go from bad to worse. Tom is really quite cool, he plays in a band, Dog Zombies, has quite a cool family and great friends, but really struggles with school and homework, especially with the meddlesome Marcus in his class. In his quest to get rid of his sad faces in order to get on that school trip, to the trip of his dreams, to a biscuit factory, we see him trying to redeem himself, with some disastrous consequences.
I’m not quite sure how old Tom is meant to be, about 10 I would guess. Chase provides great energy in his performance and we can thoroughly believe he is that character, full of mischief and loveable at the same time. He is joined by best friend Derek (Matthew Gordon, who also doubles up as Grandad), angelic Amy (Amy Hargreaves, doubling up as stroppy sister Delia) and thoroughly annoying Marcus (Ashley Cousins, doubling up as granny). Daniel Harkin, Justin Davies, Alice Redmond and Ebony Wong, make up the rest of the talented cast, who were more that suited for all their roles, providing just the right energy for their target audience.
The set is simply amazing and so well thought out. Tom is a master doodler and a lot of doodling goes on, this is done via a screen projection at the back, with some truly fabulous effects, and apparently Liz Pichon’s own work. The doodles from the book turn into doors and windows, that open, but the pièce de résistance is the car. It was a sight to behold, the hotdog car (a drawing), trundling along with the windows winding up and down, and the characters being picked up and dropped off, as it travels around town. Magical! The zimmer frames also created a stir and a laugh, when I realised what they were.
I must admit I did not know anything about Tom Gates beforehand, though I had seen the books around, which I described as involving some sort of graffiti, pretty close to the mark, I think. This is a really fun show that had us grinning ear to ear and interacting and singing about how we all love chips, along with the rest of the audience. Even though we were the only adults in the theatre without an appropriately aged child, though I did take my very big child, we still had a great time.
This is definitely my favourite children’s play I have seen to date, pure fun for the whole family and a delight to watch. A chance to be a big kid for the evening.