Tom Gates; Live on Stage. MIlton Keynes Theatre (
My 11 year old companion has read every Tom Gates book and was very much looking forward to seeing this stage adaptation. I had no idea what to expect not having had time to catch up with Tom’s life thus far! It's not aimed at me (obviously) but plenty to enjoy whatever your age in this engaging production.  Very much a family show for kids but aimed at everyone. Tom is an 11 year old in the books but on stage is of indeterminate age really. All the cast is played by young adults but not overplaying the ‘childish’ at all so not patronising to anyone (except perhaps in the portrayal of grandparents, which are very stereotyped and not like any grandparents of pre-teenage children I know!). Nothing unusual about Tom, just a down to earth, slightly absent-minded, guitar playing, sweet-toothed boy. He’s really likeable and so well played by Matthew Chase. Tom’s school companions are the usual mix, a couple of goodies and the class swot. Played by Matthew Gordon, Ashley Cousins and Amy Hargreaves they make a good team and bounce well off each other in often very funny interactions. Tom’s achievement chart is showing 3 ‘frowning faces’ as opposed to any rewards. One more strike and he won’t be able to go on the school trip to the biscuit factory. Unfortunately, due to his occasional haplessness, Tom gets another strike and the story is about him trying to get rid of his ‘frowning faces’ and collect some smiley ones. Neal Foster’s direction is really creative and absorbs the audience into Tom’s world. Tom addresses the audience throughout almost as if we are in his head so it’s a cleverly involving show. In combination with Jackie Trousdale’s set, Pichon and Simon Wainwright’s art work and animations, and Michael Flannery’s music and songs – about chips and biscuits of course - there is plenty to engage the senses throughout. This is key to the success and my nephew was so happy that everything was just like it is in the books. So, the story elements, the characters and the visuals, especially Tom’s doodles, are true to the original material which is clearly important for the target audience who want to see a ‘real’ depiction of a favourite character. This is a comforting show. By that I mean it’s warm, all the characters are likeable, there’s no sense of any real threat, and it's bright, lively and funny. The actors behave with real responsibility towards their young audience. I can see the attraction of escaping into Tom’s world and might even start reading the books myself for a bit of innocent escapism! Tom Gates: Live on Stage is at MK theatre until Saturday 11th May. Tickets: Box Office on 0844 871 7652 (booking fees apply).