Tuesday, 1 March 2011

To Kill A Mocking Bird – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

Writer: Harper Lee
Music: Christopher Madin
Director: Damian Cruden
Reviewer: Nick Hutchinson

To Kill a Mocking Bird is such an immense and well known novel that coming to it as a stage production, one could be forgiven for having too much expectation and therefore be willing to expect disappointment. However this production does not disappoint.

Set in rural Alabama in the deep south of America in 1935, the story is told by an adult Jean Louis Finch (Jacqueline Wood) of a summer from her childhood. She narrates throughout as the story unfolds of a wrongly accused Tom Robinson (Cornelius Macarthy) who is put on trial for assault and rape of a white woman, Mayella Ewell (Clare Corbett).  He is defended by the liberal thinking (for those days) Atticus Finch (Duncan Preston) who is then on the receiving end of taunts and prejudice for defending a ‘nigger’. We see the tale through the eyes of his children Scout Finch (Grace Rowe), Jem (Matthew Pattimore)  and their friend Dill (Graeme Dalling).  The trial is gripping as the evidence shows that the accused Tom is innocent.  But will that alter the way the jury will see the decision they have to make about the life of a black man?  The outcome and then the tragic but ultimately uplifting ending also brings into sharp relief all the many subtle prejudices present in the story.  Not least so about the hidden and therefore feared Boo Radley.  Is he the monster that everyone in the community thinks he is?  Or will he be more important to everyone by the time the story is done?  We see the way justice is often not clear cut but complicated and unsatisfying.   

The stage set was constructed of a series of large white wooden structures made to look like houses, stairways and fences.  Perhaps the idea was to show how we build fences through our views and at the start of the play there was a moment of invitation from the narrator who then went into a doorway and the front piece withdrew so we could be part of the action. At times during the play video footage of the players themselves reproduced scenes they were in on stage but slightly out of time. I couldn’t tell whether this was deliberate or not but if it was it gave the impression of how memory can be distorted and that all stories re-told are out of time with the present. The set though worked well as a back yard, court room, jail house etc. 

One of the things that stood out was the care the players had taken to get the southern accent right and this is why I have included the name of the dialogue coach in the credits above.  It was very well done and came over as authentic and not as English people trying to be American. They didn’t drop it once.  All of the performances were very good but the stand outs were really from Grace Rowe as Scout Finch who held the story together as she drew us into her childlike world of discovery, and Mark White as the drunk and violent Bob Ewell, who really gave him that disagreeable and hateful edge.  Duncan Preston, the most recognisable actor (from his TV and movie roles) was also tremendous as Atticus Finch, persuasively arguing the case for the defence.

This was a great production.  Very much enjoyed and very moving, especially at the final scene. I give it a high star rating because you quickly forgot that there were actors on stage and were only concerned with the characters and their plight.  The applause from the audience at the end was fierce and deservedly so.  Go and see it.

Runs until 5th March 2011
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