To Kill a Mockingbird
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, London
Adapted for the stage by Christopher Serdel
Based on the novel by Harper Lee
Runs until June 15, 2013
Under Timothy Sheader, the Open Air Theatre has become one of the most interesting and exciting venues in the capital, and his production of Christopher Sergel's adaptation of the classic Harper Lee book maintains their winning streak. The theater's beautiful setting, excellent facilities and helpful, cheerful staff always make a special evening, but how does a quintessentially American tale work here?
The fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, is represented on a sloping stage by simple childlike chalk drawings, drawn out before your eyes, as the play starts, by the minor cast members. As they do so, they read from the book in their regular accents – Northern Irish, London, Scots and RADA. Throughout the play this ploy continues, providing a neat glimpse into the inner workings of the book's narrator, the grown-up Jean Louise Finch, aka Scout.
Some of the audience found the British accents off-putting, while a few of the cast's Alabaman accents whilst in character are slightly variable – they may coalesce as the run progresses. Be warned, the stage may look and feel like rural Alabama – full credit is due to the technical crew including designer Jon Bausor – but the nights can be chilly and damp in Regent's Park so take a blanket.
Three young actors play each of the three children's kids parts. Atticus Finch's eight year old tomboy daughter Scout was played on the night we went by Eleanor Worthington-Cox, a star in the making. Feisty, funny, clever and curious, she is totally believable and holds the stage whenever she is on – and she is on a lot. Even at the beginning of the pivotal lynch mob scene all eyes were on her as she sat quietly on a chair upstage, legs swinging, eyes fixed on the grown-ups' idiocies. Theater staff report that the other Scouts, as well as the boys playing Jem and Dill, are excellent too.
Among the adult ensemble, two actors stand out. Robert Sean Leonard, of course, and Richie Campbell, whose Tom Robinson – crippled and wrongfully accused – is gripping, dignified and resigned to his fate. The incidental music – composed by Phil King and played by him on stage deserves a mention too.
Rarely put on in London, To Kill a Mockingbird is a staple of the US stage. A definite five-star recommendation for local audiences, does this production deserve to be seen by Americans over here too? Overwhelmingly, without a doubt, yes.