Theatre Review: To Kill A Mockingbird at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
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As an English Literature graduate, I should probably be thoroughly ashamed that I have never read To Kill A Mockingbird, or seen it performed on the stage until now. However, having little to no background knowledge of the story meant that this Christopher Sergel adaptation of the Harper Lee classic had me in its firm grasp from the word go.
Harper Lee’s lyrical prose is allowed to shine as the cast read directly from the novel with this creative technique elevating the classic novel in new and exciting directions. As they walk around the stage, in the midst of the action, the cast take it in turns to read lines from the book. The most endearing thing about this technique is that every member of the cast retains their regional accent. We move from welsh to northern, but always returning back to the Deep South when Scout and the gang come back into action. The emphasis on regional accents feeds directly into what is at the heart of the story; acceptance and breaking down the barriers of race. No matter what race you are, or where you are from, on the stage in this production, everyone is equal.
The children in the performance completely stole the show and kept the audience engaged throughout the whole two and a half hours. For two brilliant young boys and one outstanding young girl to own the stage like they did is a feat in itself. Ava Potter as Scout, the story’s protagonist, shone the brightest. Ava played the strong, sassy, independent Scout with such passion and commitment to the role that it is simply a pleasure to watch. Her performance had the audience laughing out loud on one hand, and filling up with tears on the other. Notably the way she interacted with the other two children, Arthur Franks as Jem, and Connor Brundish as Dill, was endearing and entirely authentic.
This adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird conjures up a 1920s deep South community that is damaged by poverty, prejudice and a culture of blame. The set is simple and begins with all of the cast drawing on the floor in chalk. The worn out appearance of everything on the stage represents the poverty in the community in Maycomb County, the imaginary district in Southern Alabama of which the novel is set. The set is tired and so are the characters; tired of prejudice. The three children are in the middle of this with Scout, her brother Jem and their energetic friend Dill witnessing the trail of an innocent young black man, Tom Robinson. He is accused of raping a white woman, despite it being glaringly obvious that her drunk father had beat her to a pulp.
The children highlight how unfair society was back then; their innocence and lack of cultural awareness means they take people as they are: black, white, young or old. The fantastic Daniel Betts plays Atticus, the small town lawyer fighting to free Tom Robinson, and the loving father of Scout and Jem. His performance shows how passion for equal rights was a endless battle in the 1920s, and people like Atticus were just chipping away at the huge boulder that blocks equality.
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