The story of To Kill A Mockingbird encompasses many different aspects of growing up that children have to go through on their long journey to adulthood. It is 1930s America and we watch three children try to understand the adult world around them. Their biggest lesson in this small rural town in south Alabama is to understand why a man called Tom Robinson, played by Zackary Momoh, is being improperly sentenced to death because of the colour of his skin. Everything centres on a court case where Tom, a young black man, has been wrongfully accused of raping a young white woman of the village.
It is always refreshing to see an adaptation of a classic novel turned into a play with such precision and respect for the original text. The cast gathered at the front of the stage, each with a copy of Harper Lee’s original text holding it proudly out to the audience before starting to read, lifting their words straight from the page before breaking into the action of acting out this remarkable and poignant story. It was raw, beautiful and with set and character changes that were flawlessly rehearsed to perfection.
The main bulk of the plot was acted out by the three children of the story. It is always an anxious feeling watching children perform at such a high calibre theatre. Will they live up to their adult counterparts? Should we, as an audience, make allowances for them if they are not quite as believable? However, all I can say is wow! I have never witnessed such capable and confident acting by a young cast. I feel compellingly obliged to mention one particular name — Ava Potter. Write this name down, make note and watch out for it in the future! Her confidence and energy was quite astounding in her role at Scout, and on more than one occasion she had the audience laughing out loud at her witty delivery of the lines.
The whole cast of this production were of a phenomenal standard. Robert Sean Leonard in his role as Atticus and Zackary Momoh as Tom, were captivating and heartrending in equal measure, both giving honest and dynamic performances.
It is shocking and appalling that over 80 years since this story was set, and over 50 years since it was written, that people all over the world are still targeted and persecuted for the colour of their skin. With the recent racial shootings in America by both white police and civilians, this story is sadly and distressfully still relevant. It was an exquisite piece of storytelling and I cannot commend Timothy Sheader enough for his impeccable direction of a fantastic cast. It left me moved and with much to contemplate — what more can you really ask from theatre?
To Kill a Mockingbird is playing at the Barbican until 25 July. For tickets and more information, see the Barbican website. Photo by Johan Persson.