To Kill A Mockingbird
Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Yet after two hours and twenty minutes of passionate theatre, in this new staging of To Kill A Mockingbird first seen at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, there was no holding the Theatre Royal audience, as they cheered this mighty show on its way to Edinburgh this week, and Aberdeen next.
For a book first published 55 years ago – and set 25 years earlier, in the hot southern summer of 1935 – Harper Lee’s only novel has a remarkable way of still hitting the headlines; only this week, it was announced that HarperCollins are about to publish the only other novel ever written by Lee, now a frail 88-year-old.
Yet it only takes a few moments, in Timothy Sheader’s beautiful, inventive production, for his fine 16-strong company – including three alternating teams of spellbindingly powerful child actors – to demonstrate exactly why this terrific story of the heroine and narrator, Scout, her brother Jem, and above all their widowed father Atticus Finch, a liberal lawyer in a racially divided southern town, occupies such a special place in the heart and minds of readers. The adult cast enter, carrying copies of the book; and at first, they read from it in their own British voices, Scottish or northern, posh or gritty. Then Phil King’s guitar music starts up, the children appear, and the actors simply merge into the narrative, like any readers becoming caught up in the world it creates.
And from there on, the story gathers speed like a mighty steam train, until its reaches its famous climax in the day-long trial of local black man Tom Robinson, for the alleged rape of a poor white girl.
Daniel Betts is quietly magnificent as Atticus, blessed with the special magic that comes to those who cannot live with themselves unless they stand for what is right. And in the end, this magnificent story of civic courage in hard times still speaks uncomfortable truths about the links between power unjustly held, by force and denial, and other kinds of abuse, economic, physical and sexual. The standing ovation was well earned; but the biggest cheer of all came when the company picked up their battered copies of the book and held them high, in a tribute to the enduring power of the right words, at the right time, to change heart and minds for good.
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, 9-14 February, and His Majesty’s Aberdeen, 16-21 February.