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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

 

 

To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Robert Sean Leonard as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird

Adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel

Based on the novel by Harper Lee

 

Directed by Timothy Sheader

 

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

 

16 May 2013 – 15 June 2013

 

To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960, is Harper Lee’s only novel. Yet if you’re going to write the one then To Kill a Mockingbird is hard to beat. This evergreen tale about racial injustice, centred on defendant lawyer Atticus Finch and the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of rape in 1935, has featured on the top ten library lists since it was first published, on either side of the Atlantic. In 2006, it was ranked above the Bible as a book ‘every adult should read before they die.’

The plot and characters are loosely based on Lee’s observations of her family and neighbours at the time of the Great Depression.  Scout Finch’s childhood friend Dill, always inside his ‘dreamy head,’ is based on Lee’s childhood friendship with Truman Capote, who like Dill, had an extraordinary imagination. Yet Lee’s compassion and humour shines out across the years.
Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation cleverly teases out these colloquial observations of Miss Maudie, Mrs Dubose et al in an impressive, presentational format, which Director Timothy Sheader expertly sets against the tension of the trial and the children’s growing awareness. It is a winning combination. The production’s forensic-style, complete with chalked-in areas to denote ‘our house’ ‘the dump’ with arrows indicating ‘the first purchase church’ ‘the school’ neatly encapsulate the imagined ‘tired-out’ town of Maycomb, whilst providing a theatrical backdrop to the exemplary court-room scene in the second half.

The story unfolds as the company re-presents Scout’s story. It is a deceptively simple device but effective. Each has their own copy of the book - representations of the numerous editions since 1960, creating a visual treat at the end of the first half as the books are left under the lone tree. We are all part of the re-telling. While the back-lit screen (Lighting designer Oliver Fenwick) with its changing hues is off-set against the theatre’s own natural backdrop.  

Miss Maudie (a commanding Hattie Ladbury) waters chalked-in flowers with a real watering can. While composer Phil King, like a latter-day troubadour wonders through the action. ‘Don’t be fooled these legs are strong,’ he sings at the beginning. Yet as late evening progresses to night, his falsetto birdsong mingles with the Regent’s owls - magical.

The simple staging with ‘stand-in’ props:  a chair, a picket fence, a door frame never impedes the narrative. The clever setting (Jon Bausor) provides space to inhabit, to tell stories. While an ambient sound track (Ian Dickinson) suggests the neglected gate, leading to the reclusive Boo Radley’s door, or the ominous sound of pick-up trucks as the up-for-bloods gather outside the jail housing Tom Robinson. 

The performances in this tightly orchestrated ensemble are uniformly good. Robert Sean Leonard, as the beleaguered Finch, is a triumph, particularly in the trial scene, full of righteous dignity and eloquence. Scout, Jem and Dill, played by Izzy Lee in a neat case of serendipity, Adam Scotland and Ewan Harris are heartfelt. Yet the performances of Rona Morison as Mayella Ewell, Simon Gregor as her father and Richie Campbell, as the dignified Tom Robinson, crackle.

The final visual image features the moon with striking silhouettes as Scout’s story draws to a close and the mysterious Boo Radley is revealed.  ‘There’s one thing that does not abide by majority rule and that’s your conscience’ says Finch earlier. This universal truth cuts through everything. While a story simply told has the ability to change lives. Catch this one whether through the wind, the rain, the hail or the sun…..

 

 

 
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Inner Circle
Westminster NW1 4NU

http://openairtheatre.com/production/to-kill-a-mockingbird

Mon – Sat (7.45pm) matinees Wed, Thurs and Sat (2.15pm)
Tickets Standard Price £25 £45, Premium Seats £55 (including glass of wine and programme)
Running time: Approximately 2 hours 30 minutes
(including a 15 minute interval)
 
 
 

 

 

 

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