To Kill a Mockingbird review

April 8, 2014, Article by Ben Willis in Reviews, Theatre & Comedy

Rich heads to the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre for this adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic.

There was a moment during tonight’s performance of To Kill a Mockingbird at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre when the sun finally disappeared behind the trees and, as one, the audience reached into their bags for blankets. But despite London’s poor impression of the American Deep South in high summer, this was a performance that brought the sweltering heat and claustrophobia of Harper Lee’s classic alive superbly.

The play opened with actors dotted around the audience, rising to read from tattered copies of the Pulitzer-prize-winning book, before making their way to the stage.  They continued to read paragraphs out throughout the performance as well as taking turns at supporting roles. This is one of the masterstrokes of Christopher Sergel’s adaptation, letting Lee’s majestic prose set the scene and inform the action, negating the need for clunky exposition from the actors.

It’s always a tense moment when a child actor enters the stage – are they going to be too quiet, or worse like something out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? – but these three kids were exceptional, essentially carrying the first half of the performance on their own. Eleanor Worthington-Cox was particularly impressive as Scout, playing the hot-headed youngster with real conviction, and it’s no surprise to learn she won an Oliver award for her role in the smash-hit musical, Matilda.

The second half belonged to Robert Sean Leonard and Richie Campbell as Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson respectively, the courtroom scene in particular keeping the audience enthralled – even a passing 747 or at one stage guttural grunts from a resident of the nearby zoo didn’t break the spell. As the shadows lengthened and the drama unfolded, the pace never dropped, but the actors never felt the need to ‘go big’, letting the sparkling dialogue do the work for them.

When the final lines of Lee’s story were spoken: ‘[Atticus] would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning’, you got the sense that the audience would have stayed with him until the sun came up again, given the chance.

Runs until June 16