There was a chill in the air at Regents Park’s Open Air Theatre, but the stage radiated with the hot Alabama summer sun in the the first show of the season with a stage adaption by Christopher Sergel of Harper Lee’s American classic “To Kill A Mockingbird”.
Set in the fictitious town of Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s and was based on an experience Lee had as a child. The tale is told over three years and centers around the Finch family. There’s the father Atticus (Robert Sean Leonard) , his daughter Scout played rambunctiously by Eleanor Worthington Cox and his son Jem ( Callum Henderson). There’s also their close friend Dill (Sebastian Clifford) and the mysterious neighbour Boo who never comes out of the house but is always leaving them affectionate gifts. Atticus is a lawyer and is in the midst of defending a black man, Tom Robinson (Richie Campbell) who faces the charge of raping a young white girl Mayella Ewell (Rona Morison),whose father Bob Ewell played viciously by Simon Gregor, is known as the town drunk.
Both Mayella and her father during the trial are suspected of not telling the whole truth and despite winning the case their reputations are tarnished. What ensues is a tale of tragedy, heartbreak and revenge, but all is not lost when a surprising turn of events can brighten even this torrid town’s day.
Sergel’s version was not a full stage adaption, but more of a play immersed in the book’s wonderful narration read aloud by various members of the ensemble. Director Timothy Sheader had the narrators weave themselves in and out of the ways of the children and the other players, while they acted out the story so that they felt like an integral part of the story.
In between the narration, the dialogue would kick in again and a classic play was staged. The actors never failed to animate the dialogue and were all outstanding at delivering Lee’s captivating prose. All of this was accompanied by the assuasive original music of Phil King, who performs his pieces throughout the show. I felt transfixed by the strumming on his guitar and felt like I was transported from London to the South.
The children who played the roles of Dill, Scout and Jem were phenomenal, completely focused and energised throughout the evening. Their enthusiasm and natural spontaneity in their roles never waned even as the evening got darker and the wind a bit cooler their performances remained consistently strong.
Our leading man Robert Sean Leonard who played Atticus Finch, played the part with just the right amount of stoicism and his tiredness of struggling all those years, for what he felt was his moral call to duty was written on his face. His interactions with the children were pure and I loved how he would admire his children’s rebellious spirit and also reprimanded them at the same time like only a single father can. As the black care-taker of the family, Michele Austin’s Calpurnia showed a loving rapport with the children and provided a bit of comedy relief as the story is quite heavy. I found Richie Campbell’s performance as Tom Robinson to be riveting as well.
I particularly enjoyed the idea of having the actors speak in their native accents as it seemed like they were narrating the story from the outside looking in, and not with the characteristic Alabaman accent. If they had all done the accent, it might have been a bit forced and it seemed as if they were themselves reading it aloud to someone they held dear.
Though one could argue that it might have been a bit too chilly to go on, the show must go on and so it did. I really cannot find any faults with this production and found they managed to stage one of the most poignant pieces of American literature in a sensitive and touching way.
To Kill A Mockingbird will be on at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park until 15 June (0844 826 4242) Visit http://openairtheatre.com/