By Harper Lee, adapted by Christopher Sergel
Directed by Michael Buffong
Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre
Date: Friday 1st December 2006
This was a real tear-jerker, and no mistake. If I were to read the book, it would be a sodden mass long before the end.
I don’t have any comparison for this adaptation, but it seemed familiar from the film, so I assume it’s pretty faithful to the original book. The set was all walls, doors, windows and yard, with some picket fence and plants in pots. All the neighbours’ houses and yards were represented in this one space, and the action flowed freely amongst them all. A couple of extra walls came into play when we needed a courthouse, along with lots of seats and tables, and we also had a short stop at the prison (this was when my eyes started to get moist) to see the angry mob thwarted by an innocent child. I’m getting emotional again just remembering it all.
I love the way the story is told from the child’s viewpoint. It gives us an opportunity to examine ourselves and the situation explored in the play from a simple perspective. Good is obviously good, and evil wears a black hat. Except that things aren’t always that straightforward, and things don’t always work out the way you want them to. Even though I knew what would happen, I was still tremendously moved by it all.
The performances were all good. I especially appreciated Bettrys Jones as Scout, who has to carry so much of the emotional impact of the story through her character’s innocence. A neighbour was used as the narrator, instead of a grown-up Scout, and that worked fine. Atticus was played by Duncan Preston, with perhaps a tad less perfection than Gregory Peck brought to the screen version, and this worked well for me – it made the messiness of the whole thing more apparent, and emphasised that a lot of the people baying for blood were actually good people at heart who had just taken a wrong turning somewhere along the line. I spotted one of the officials at the trial, who held the Bible witnesses swore on, making some grimaces and movements to show his dislike of Negroes – a nice detail. And I sobbed mercilessly throughout the ending, when Boo Radley saves the children. I don’t know why this story affects me so much – I haven’t sobbed like this for a long time in the theatre, and it did me good to let it all out. I felt so much better at the end of the play, saddened as well, but complete in some way. A fine production, and well performed. Thank you.
© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me