Christopher Sergel's To Kill A Mockingbird
Regent's Park OpenAir Theatre | London
directed by Timothy Sheader
For many years, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, set during the Great Depression has been known as a classic. However in recent months it has come under scrutiny and deemed irrelevant to modern day audiences; being dropped from the school syllabus along with other classics such as Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. This tale of one man’s plight to do the right thing, whilst protecting his family is as current as ever. This is a story about right and wrong; a lesson that should to be taught whether it is the thirties or the noughties. It is a story about injustice, prejudice and fear of the unknown; about being human and being part of a dysfunctional society.
The Regent’s Park OpenAir Theatre' set by Jon Bausor, with a stark grey floor and an oak tree with a tyre swing, is open to interpretation. An opportunity to fill the blank space with one’s own imaginings. This serenity does not last long as the cast scrawl across a map of their hometown Maycomb, Alabama. The chalkboard floor is almost a nod towards the narrative in which Lee’s book is written, the viewpoint of six-year-old Scout and the childish innocence of her, her brother Jem and their friend Dill. The company are able to ‘build’ the set using the chalkboard. The mixture of mediums creates a sort of chaos, lending itself to the turbulent themes of the story.
With a set that stays much the same throughout, the production relies heavily on narration during complex scenes by those in the ensemble, something that may have worked better had there been fewer narrators; or had this been in an enclosed theatre rather than open air, spotlights could have directed the audience to the relevant action. The first act feels rushed and crowded with the entire cast onstage and the narration told in various regional accents can be jarring when combined with the action and accents of Maycomb County. Saying this, the ensemble is fundamental in creating much of the soundscape. The scene where the children first approach the Radley house is made tense and unnerving by the ensemble participation. And when their father, Atticus Finch is faced with a rabid dog, the soundscape is so discreet that it gnaws at your almost subconscious.
Connie Walker’s performances as Mrs Dubose/Miss Stephanie are brilliant, the two characters being opinionated, bigoted but comical; the latter lending itself to a farcical portrayal of the old fashioned ideals on male/female gender roles as well as race. The longest and by far most powerful scene comes with Tom Robinson’s trial. The judge informs us that we are the jury and it is here that we meet Robinson (Zackary Momoh) properly for the first time. Despite the presence of the full cast taking on their character roles, the soundscape is sparse, making the realism of what we are spectators to all the more profound. In the novel, Dill's character feels secondary; however during this adaptation he’s brought to the forefront as a humorous character as well as a voice of conscience. During the climactic trial scene, Leo Heller’s outpouring of emotion over the unjust treatment of Tom Robinson is palpable.
A lot is crammed into this two and a half hour performance under Timothy Sheader’s direction but it stays true to Harper Lee’s text. This 2013 Christopher Sergel adaptation blurs the binaries between classic and contemporary and although Regents Park is a far cry from the Deep South, if you haven’t already it will make you want to read the original novel.
photo | ©Johan Persson