The Theatreguide.London Review
Kill A Mockingbird
Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park Summer 2013; Barbican Theatre Summer 2015
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was first published just over fifty years ago, and any audience that sits down to watch Timothy Sheader’s new production will inevitably be comprised of people who have, to varying degrees, grown up with this book.
Christopher Sergel’s adaptation relies heavily on narration drawn straight from the book, but Sheader shares it out between the multi-roleing actors who make up the residents of Maycomb.
By having them read these passages in their real voices, Sheader is able to frame the well-known story with some interesting implications about our joint cultural ownership of this famous and beloved novel.
The set is simplistic, looking like a child-friendly version of Lars von Trier’s Dogville sound stage, with the layout of the town conveyed simply by chalk lines on the ground. Combined with Phil King’s folky original music, the opening scenes feel hugely twee and just the right side of cloying.
But when Robert Sean Leonard enters as Atticus Finch, the play finds its driving force. Finch is arguably one of the most beloved characters in American literature, and Sean Leonard is hugely watchable in the role, beautifully restrained and impossibly still.
Believable in all Finch’s quiet nobility, there is also, at all times, something melancholy and a little weary just beneath the surface. It’s captivating.
As the play progresses, you realise that the beautiful Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is a more than perfect setting: the sun shines down on the endless summers of the play’s first half before setting, slowly and dramatically, during the court scene.
Night draws in around the stage as Finch’s children watch him defend an innocent black man in a white southern court that will convict him, in spite of the evidence, because it is what they do.
And as the stage lights become the only lights around, the whole thing seems to sharpen to a point, underlining not only the loss of the young characters’ innocence but the story’s depressing inability, in a country where black people are still 28 times more likely to be stopped than white people, to become irrelevant.
Put simply, it wasn’t just the unseasonally cold May evening that sent shivers down my spine.
With excellent support all round – especially from Richie Campbell, righteous and injured as the accused Tom Robinson, and Hattie Ladbury, absurdly and equally likeable when reading from the novel or playing Miss Maudie – as well as some charming, winning performances from the children, this is a moving and enjoyable adaptation of a modern classic, in beautiful surroundings.
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Review - To Kill A Mockingbird - Open Air Theatre 2013