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Review: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted on 27 May 2013 by Camilla Gurtler

To Kill A Mockingbird

“Mockingbirds just make music; they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out. That’s why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

To Kill a Mockingbird is probably one of the most beloved books of all time. Since being published in 1960 and winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, it has touched the hearts of children as well as grown-ups. Harper Lee’s classic about racism and injustice, experienced through the eyes of the young Scout, tells the story of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white girl. Atticus Finch, Scout’s father, is defending him in court and causes a stir in the small town as racism rages in 30s America. For Scout and her older brother, Jem, and their friend Dill it seems unfair and shocking that a man can be accused of a crime he didn’t commit due to the colour of his skin, and the children embark on an emotional journey as they follow Atticus’s fight for justice and equality.

Having never actually read it myself (shame on me, I know) I had no expectations entering the rural setting of the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park. It has a magical feel to it, like entering the perfect setting for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and despite the typical cloudy and plain miserable English weather the set and lighting transports us to southern Alabama and Harper Lee’s world. Jon Bausor’s set design is plain brilliant with various versions of the book lying on the stage, occasionally being picked up by cast members and with different sections read out loud. It’s like storytelling when you were young, when your parents read to you at bedtime and you imagined the world of the book and heard the voices of the characters. As To Kill a Mockingbird is such a beloved book this idea honours it very well, and with Phil King’s beautiful voice and songwriting the play has a Shakespearean feel to it. As cast members draw Scout’s world in chalk on the floor images spring to life in our heads, and create a perfect balance between a classic story and the modern world in which it’s performed.

The cast is fantastic and jump in and out of characters, storytelling and stage managing.  I’m usually not very keen on child actors – an image of a cockney Simba still haunts me even four years after watching The Lion King – but Eleanor Worthington-Cox is such a lovable little charmer that it’s impossible not to fall in love with her feisty Scout. She is one of the Laurence Olivier-winning Matildas so no surprise this girl knows how to get her audience. Callum Henderson’s Jem and Sebastian Clifford’s Dill are equally cute and innocent, and hats off to the three of them for managing to keep a southern American accent (which, if you are an actor, you’ll know is pretty hard!). House’s Robert Sean Leonard is a credible, warm and admirable Atticus Finch and his appeal to the jury’s (the audience’s) conscience in convicting Tom Robinson is especially touching.

Director Timothy Sheader really understands how to use his venue, cast and crew to their best abilities and has created a performance of truth, childlike innocence and a sense of play in his outdoor set, never losing the gravity and tragic undertones of the story. If you have read the book as a child then this is a great way of re-experiencing the delightful feistiness of Scout’s mind. If you haven’t, this production will certainly make you buy the book. Just remember to bring a blanket to the performance as the British weather doesn’t do the story and setting credit.   

To Kill a Mockingbird is playing at the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park until 15 June. For more information and tickets, see the Open Air Theatre website.

Camilla Gurtler

Camilla Gurtler

Camilla is currently training as a director on the Young Directors’ Programme with StoneCrabs Theatre Company. Camilla has worked as a director, actress and writer in Denmark and London, and loves Shakespeare, greek tragedies and children’s theatre. She’s obsessed with coffee, dislikes ranting on stage and hates the colour yellow. Especially mustard-yellow.

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Review: To Kill A Mocking Bird

Posted on 04 May 2011 by Tiffany Stoneman

To Kill a Mockingbird is a publishing phenomenon, having sold more than 30 million copies, been translated into 32 languages, adapted into a 1962 film, and in 1970 developed for the stage. Harper Lee’s novel is not just a story of prejudice, justice and social standing; it is one of fortitude and empathy. It takes hold of small-town misconceptions and shakes the core of the Deep South of the 1930s, whilst expressing the wonderful innocence of childhood.

Therefore Damian Cruden had his work cut out to take Christopher Sergel’s adaptation and place it onstage in a way that was relevant to a twenty-first century audience. A simple set of pale wood, cut into slats that cast prison-like shadows across the stage, become the perfect backdrop to Lee’s story, and without unnecessary clutter the space is a blank slate onto which the life of Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch is portrayed.

Jacqueline Wood is the adult Jean Louise, narrating the story and weaving her way between the other characters, reminiscing about her strange and naïve childhood. Wood, though looking a little out of place in a harsh black dress-suit, maintains the essence of youth that is essential to link the past and present together, and provides a detailed insight into the thoughts of the young Scout. Projections and voice-overs were used to try and enhance the essence of memory, however some out of sync recordings and obscured images on the backdrop were more distracting than enlightening – a clever design concept, but not quite as effective as one might have hoped.

The story follows Scout, Jem and Dill through the trail of Tom Robinson – Grace Rowe presents an enthusiastic portrait of Scout, alongside Matthew Pattimore as Jem and Graeme Dalling as Dill. Pattimore’s Jem is an accurate depiction of an older brother, but one who has not yet reached manhood and teeters on that unnerving brink of adolescence. He is both fool-hardy and protective, and worked well with the other children. Dalling is the slightly more refined Dill, and expertly worked his way into becoming a familiar part of the Finch family. Beginning tentatively, Dalling was able to produce a character that was likeable but ultimately set apart from the townspeople.

Of course, the role of Atticus Finch is not a light one, especially after Gregory Peck’s Academy-award winning performance in the 1962 film. However, Duncan Preston flawlessly conveys the fatherly figure; likable and justified, he shows his assertive beliefs as well as his deep love for his children. His stirring speech in Act Two reminded me of Shylock’s “hath not a Jew eyes”, so much so that I would not have been surprised to hear exclamations of agreement from the audience who had been transformed into the jury at Robinson’s trial. Preston was steadfast in his performance, expressing Atticus’ sense of injustice and determination to do right.

However, there were two small but crucial characters who I felt stole the show – Clare Corbett’s Mayella Ewell and Cornelius Macarthy’s Tom Robinson were moving, tempestuous and utterly engaging in their short but perfectly performed monologues. Corbett was both heart-wrenching and incredibly frustrating as Mayella, the ‘wronged’ girl at the trial – she spoke out with emotion that was almost too much to bear, torn between social convention and the fear of her father. Macarthy, playing the honest Robinson, was quiet but unfaltering in his defence making only the coldest of hearts wish to see him pronounced guilty. Two outstanding performances in possibly the most difficult of roles.

A line or two must be said in praise of Caroline Hetherington, the dialect coach who brought this troupe of actors into the Deep South, tutoring an extremely complicated accent that requires an in-depth look at the text. Not one person failed in capturing the essence of a Maycomb native, and Hetherington must be given credit for her excellent work.

Cruden enables a truly cathartic release in the audience in the final scene as Heck Tate (Andy Hockley), defies social law and turns; “Let the dead bury the dead”, and all we can do is nod. A sensitive and artistic renewal of a literary classic, well cast and evoking the strength of truth and justice, and the consequences of these things denied. The Touring Consortium has created a piece of theatre that cannot be easy to move around, but is handled with expertise and understanding. Something a little deeper that challenges any kind of intolerance, this play is just as important today as it was in the 50s.

To Kill A Mockingbird is playing at the Richmond Theatre until 7th May. For information and tickets see the website here.

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Review: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted on 03 March 2011 by Claire Morley

I am one of what must be a small number of people who have neither read nor seen a film version of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. The recent run at York Theatre Royal, which is soon to go on tour, proves its popularity today, with sell out shows and rapturous applause. Damien Cruden’s direction of a cast of 21 and Liam Doona’s design combine to make an interesting and exciting adaptation which never loses pace.

The inclusion of an older Scout, played with verve by Jacqueline Wood, narrating her memories with hindsight was a welcome addition and helped the story to flow without confusion. In modern dress, she didn’t overpower or clutter any scene, yet still managed to make her presence felt. Grace Rowe, who played her younger self was, however, the production’s greatest asset. Appearing in almost every scene, she managed to depict a playful yet wise-before-her-time girl with ease and flair. Scout’s wide eyed enthusiasm, inquisitiveness and her strong sense of justice were never overplayed. Credit must also go to the other two actors playing children (Matthew Pattimore as Jem and Graeme Dalling as Dill); the relationship seemed genuine and was enjoyable to watch.

The main scene in which the three took a back seat was naturally the trial scene and while the play lost movement here, it was where the emotional heart of the piece could be found. Although my position in the stalls meant that I couldn’t see half of the ensemble and their reactions, it was Cornelius Macarthy as the wrongly accused Tom Robinson who quietly stole the scene. A picture of self-control and reserve, it made it even more despicable that his character could meet the fate he did.

Duncan Preston (Atticus Finch) of Dinnerladies and Emmerdale fame, is the face on the posters, but he is not the star. The story is the star and I recommend you catch the tour to either remind yourself of it or, like me, to be introduced to it in the most brilliant and thought provoking way.

To Kill A Mockingbird was at The York Theatre Royal 11-26 February and is touring with Touring Consortium Theatre Company (dates can be found here

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