Reviewed by Duncan Harley.
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” says Miss Maudie in the 1960 Harper Lee classic.
In this, Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation of the 55-year-old story, the central tenets of the novel, innocence and generosity, are well portrayed indeed.
From curtain rise to final bow, this production will delight theatre-goers and, crucially, fans of Harper Lee of all ages. It might even bring on a tear or three.
From the moment in Act One when the cast walk on stage, via the auditorium, the lights remain virtually undimmed; signalling to the audience that a degree of unbridled participation may be required.
Crucially, that participation does not require prior reading of the novel. All that is required is some attention and some imagination as the story unfolds.
Readings from the original novel are intertwined with the plot and the theatre-going audience is drawn seamlessly into small town Alabama in the steamy heat of the Depression-hit summer of 1933.
It takes but a few minutes to realise that this is a production like few others.
The set is almost bare aside from a few weathered chairs, some chalk-drawn town boundaries and an old rusted corrugated iron fence.
While novelist Harper Lee’s narrator Scout, played by leading lady Rosie Boore, swings on an old car tyre hung from the solitary tree in the Eastern corner of the yard, cast members recite extracts from time battered copies of the original novel.
This is the US Deep South at its most formidable. A place in time where racially-charged prejudice sits unmoving alongside a slow but inevitable force for reform. A story of injustice is about to be played out and only a very few could fail to be moved.
The tale is well known.
Local black man, Tom Robinson, played by Zackary Momoh of Holby City fame, is falsely accused of the rape of a white woman, and Scout’s dad, Atticus Finch, played by Daniel Betts, defends him despite the foregone conclusion of guilt due to simply being a “nigger”.
Robinson is of course doomed, despite clear evidence that the accusers, Mayella Ewell and her father Bob, are lying.
Bob Ewell tries to exact revenge, imagining that he has been made a fool of, and is himself killed.
Scout embraces her father’s philosophy of sympathy and understanding despite her experiences of hatred and prejudice.
There is more. The story of Boo Radley, played by Christopher Akrill, for one; the riot scene where heroine Scout pours her childish innocence on the flame of the murderous intent of the townsfolk; plus of course the unrelenting sense of the injustice of it all.
The undoubted stars of the show are of course the child actors.
Scout’s childhood contemporaries Dill, played by Milo Panni, and Jem, played by William Price describe the unfolding drama.
Faultless, they excel. Alongside Atticus Finch, portrayed by Daniel Betts complete with round glasses and linen suit, they more than satisfy the (soon to be) legacy of Nelle Harper Lee.
For those of a critical nature, the English regional accents delivered via the actor readers of the narrative passages may be an issue, especially for those of us in Scotland. After all, this is a novel with a Yankee inner voice. Aside from that it is a faultless production.
Perhaps in a decade or so Harper Lee’s forthcoming sequel ‘Go Set a Watchman’ will be dramatised for theatre audiences. Meantime this Regent’s Park Open Air production is a must see.
In fact it would be a sin to miss it.
Directed by Timothy Sheader, ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ plays at HM Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 21st February.
Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Images © Johan Persson
Words © Duncan Harley