Jacqueline Wilson’s books for children often balance fantasy with harsh reality. Wave Me Goodbye doesn’t just depict the threat of the Second World War, it also deals with grief, heartbreak, neglectful parents and features a 10-year-old running around the Welsh countryside with a shotgun.
Emma Reeve’s adaptation, while charming, is unflinching in depicting the story’s darker moments. There is a sense of real sorrow and danger as bookish evacuee Shirley (a wise but innocent Courtney George) and her classmates try to find a place in a frequently cruel and too grown-up world.
Christian Patterson’s production is strongly directed and makes great use of designer Amy Cook’s revolve. Every bit-part is turned up to full volume. Kerry Peers is fun as the eccentric Mrs Mad who takes the children in, but it is her two-minute turn as a frank Liverpool landlady that is truly memorable.
The performances seem to move up a notch to accommodate the quick scene and character changes in the pacy second act. Sean Jones’ performance as delinquent Kevin becomes more nuanced, revealing the traumatised child lurking under the school bully. Cook’s already dynamic set also gains a whole new dimension, unfolding butterfly-like to mimic the opening of a doll’s house.
Shirley laments that children are only able to make pretend houses while adults have all the power. Yet, as she comes to realise, it is imagination, people and stories that make a house a home. Wave Me Goodbye has lashings of all three, making for an exciting and unusually bold work for young audiences.