The following review was written for Backstage Pass.
This tour of Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" is timely given that it was just announced that a 'sequel' will be published later this year. It is a mark of the power that this tale holds that this announcement has been met with great excitement and this adaptation is evidence that such a reaction is justified.
Dealing with the issues of racial prejudice and justice as seen through the eyes of both children and adults the play is a striking reminder of the flaws inherent in humanity and how the innocence of children is destroyed by adults who should know better. It is this innocence that permeates throughout the production elevating the play into something magical; by seeing most of the events through the eyes of a child they are imbued with an aspect of neutrality whereby we, the audience, are open to accept truth as it presents itself - appropriate given the plot centres around the 1935 trial in the South of an African American man for the alleged rape of a white woman, and the racial tension generated by the fact that he is defended by a white man, "Atticus Finch", the narrator's father and stalwart upholder of what is right and correct.
Christopher Sergel's adaptation is full of engaging and kinetic language that thrives in a staging by director Timothy Sheader that is pretty much perfect: Sheader utilises the stage in a semi-abstract form whilst retaining the realism of the drama. His juxtaposition of stillness and movement is excellently utilised and creates a strength and energy that both supports and reinforces the text. With Act I establishing the bitter feelings towards "Atticus", as discovered by the children, Sheader fills the stage with movement and energy creating a sense of the discovery that one tends to experience as a child. Act II is more still with attention focused on the trial and on those who take the stand against both defendant "Tom Robinson" (a subtle Zachary Momoh) as well as "Atticus". But even in this adult arena the children are present and their reactions to the inevitable outcome are powerful.
It is to Sheader's credit that he reinforces the story's origins in that the play is broken up by cast members reading 'extracts' from copies of the novel, out of character, and having them 'reading along' when not physically taking part in the onstage action; the story they read is thus flowing out of their imaginations and forming into a gripping physical manifestation before our very eyes. Sheader also has the audience addressed as the trial's jury further involving them in this communal event, forcing them out of being an observer and to become a participant, to become emotionally involved.
Phil King's music, performed by Luke Potter, is an elegant, evocative compliment to a surprisingly moving production that is at once powerful and tender and the scenic design by Jon Bausor is also an excellent augmentation to Sheader's assured vision.
"To Kill A Mockingbird" is blessed with a company that creates theatre so complete that it allows each performer to excel in his or her roles (most play more than one character) - whatever they may be - and as "Atticus Finch", Daniel Betts is replete with a nobility and restraint even in the face of the flawed reality of the justice that he serves, accepting the wrong-doings around him with a grace that highlights the errors of others. As his daughter, "Scout" - the story's narrator, Ava Potter is enchanting and enthralling, easily capturing one's attention whilst allowing the audience to empathise with her and the situations she encounters: It is her innocence and viewpoint that is so engaging. The other children, Arthur Franks as "Jem" and Connor Brundish as "Dill", are equally as impressive and all three present an honesty that speaks volumes amongst the mistruths presented by bigoted adults.
But despite the power of fear and hate inherent within most characters, the play - like the book - reasserts the notion that good will out despite all odds, that views can be changed - albeit at a slow pace, one person at a time.
It is no fluke that Harper Lee's tale is still revered and this excellent production is proof positive of the importance of great storytelling which is amongst the most human of creations.