Writer: Harper Lee
Adaptor: Christopher Sergal
Director: Timothy Sheader
Reviewer: Christopher Owen
To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the most celebrated novels in American literature, telling the story of the Finch family – lawyer Atticus, and his two children Scout, Jem and their friend Dill – the local community and their attitudes and prejudices towards the town’s different racial backgrounds and curious inhabitants.When Atticus is called in to defend a black man charged with the rape of a local girl, and her evidence is called into doubt, he angers the townsfolk for supporting anyone other than the white community – no matter even if that is the correct thing to do. What follows is a story of one man’s integrity and respect for the truth and ultimately what was right to believe in, at a time when racial acceptance was far from the norm.
The production is framed by a constant narrative as seen through Scout’s eyes (as in the novel) and this narration is shared throughout the entire cast reading from their own copy of To Kill A Mockingbird itself. Each actor speaks in their own native accent, and then drops into their character from the story itself when needed. This proves to be a distraction from the intimacy of the piece, as just when you settle into the show’s pace and rhythm, you are broken out of it again, by hearing a British regional accent in the middle of an American tale. This takes quite a while to get used to but eventually falls into place with the rest of the production, however it does feel like a single narrative voice would be better suited. The simple design of drawing a street map on the bare floor of the Open Air Theatre with chalk to represent the town and locations of the action is highly effective and is supported cleverly by the positioning of simple props and scenery throughout the show to accent each individual scene. If a new location is mentioned, such as the church, or the jail it is simply drawn onto the existing floor map. With a blank backdrop with simple block colour lighting that changes with every scene, the design lets you concentrate on the story itself, and not pull focus from the importance of topics in the text.
The cast is led by a strong performance by Robert Sean Leonard as lawyer Atticus. He gives an assured, confident and strong performance of the pillar of the family, and never overplays a scene making it over dramatic. He is especially strong when engaging with the wonderful childrens cast (a rotating team of three actors per part, varying on different performances). The children bring the endearing curiosity and understanding that only a young mind can have of an over-complicated situation to life perfectly. There are also highly impressive supporting performances by Rona Morrison and Simon Gregor as Mayella and Bob Ewell, the alleged rape victim and her abusive drink-fuelled father in the courtroom scene. Also, Richie Campbell as the accused Tom Robinson really brings the high emotions of an innocent yet respectful man in such a circumstance to the surface, and with this, means even if you know the outcome of the story and the trial in advance, you still can’t help but feel strongly for Tom, and this is credit indeed to the performance of all three actors in this scene.
The adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel by Christopher Sergel is to the point, and covers all the major plot points to make the story as effective as it needs to be, however at times felt a little wordy and would still have the same emotional impact even if it was trimmed by 10 minutes.At a time when highly emotionally charged dramas such as Broadchurch are dominating our TV screens and horrific stories of prejudice driven attacks and abusive family members are dominating our papers, To Kill A Mockingbird, its many layers and its central story of Atticus feels incredibly relevant. A good adaptation of a classic novel that suits the beauty and charm of this theatre perfectly, this is well worth a trip to the Open Air Theatre, even if it does mean wrapping up very warm in the middle of May.