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A CurtainUp London London Review
To Kill A Mockingbird

"Every mob in every Southern town is made up of people you know." — Atticus Finch
To Kill A Mockingbird
Robert Sean Leonard as Atticus Finch
(Hugo Glendinning)
In a stylish and animated production, Robert Sean Leonard graces the London stage at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park to play Atticus Finch, the hero of Harper Lee's famous novel To Kill A Mockingbird, about the South in 1936. Timothy Sheader's production uses Christopher Sergel's adaptation and allows much of the narrative spoken by the children to be, as if, read from the book by different adult members of the cast using their British accents.

Many of the cast join us from the audience, reading from the book, a directorial move that involves us all. Jon Bausor's design allows the cast to chalk out the lines of the streets and the houses of the fictional Alabama town, Maycomb as they are described. A tree dominates the centre of the town with a tyre swing hanging on a rope. Musician Phil King, acting as Link Deas, plays the guitar and sings songs of the South.

We meet some of the townsfolk, Calpurnia (Michele Austin) who cares for the Finch children, the tomboy, Jean Louise Finch better known as Scout (Izzy Lee, Lucy Hutchinson/Eleanor Worthington-Cox) and Jem (Gus Barry/Adam Scotland/Callum Henderson). We hear about Boo Radley (Daniel Tuite), the scary recluse that the children fascinated by, dare each other to knock at his door. Julie Legrand doubles as Stephanie Crawford and Mrs Dubose with a quick onstage costume change.

After much talk about Atticus which is how the children refer to their widowed father, Robert Sean Leonard makes a late and much awaited entrance. Tall, handsome and in a homespun linen three piece suit, he is eminently sensible and statesmanlike. He tells the children to stop bothering Mr Radley and later sentences Jem to daily sessions reading to the racist Mrs Dubose, after Jem pulled off the flowers in her garden, in anger at her opinions. Tom Robinson (Richie Campbell) is imprisoned awaiting trial after being accused of the rape of Mayella Ewell (Rona Morison) and Atticus and the children, in a wonderful show of courage, foil the lynch mob gathering outside the gaol.

In Act Two, the children, who now include Dill (Harry Bennett/Sebastian Clifford/Ewan Harris) see the trial of Tom Robinson after sitting with the Reverend Sykes (Joe Speare) in the gallery reserved for “coloureds”. Simon Gregor gives an amazing, snarling and vindictive performance as Mayella's father and town bigot, Robert E Lee, or Bob, Ewell. Despite Atticus' persuasive defence that shows that Tom's withered left arm could not have delivered Mayella's injuries, the jury finds Tom Robinson guilty. This ending is realistic and shows the depth of prejudice in the South at that time. The courtroom scene makes the play high drama. As the children are threatened, an act of tolerance towards an outsider will pay off.

Robert Sean Leonard's performance will get him nominated for Best Actor this year, such is the attractive reasonableness of the role but I also enjoyed Simon Gregor's Bob Ewell with his head bent, leaning forward like a predatory bird, snapping out his answers, “Yessir”. Richie Campbell's Tom Robinson wears the pre-knowledge of ground down defeat. Rona Morison's Mayella is obviously damaged but not by Tom Robinson. The children too are convincing and give mature performances way beyond their years. The narration by the whole cast takes the pressure off them and involves us all as readers of this iconic book.

London needs plays about tolerance and empathy this summer. This is my must see production this year and hopefully there will be some warm, if not as humid, as Alabama before it closes painfully early on 15th June. But the weather doesn't really matter as Timothy Sheader's To Kill A Mockingbird shines with heart warming joy.

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To Kill A Mockingbird
Written by Harper Lee
Adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel
Directed by Timothy Sheader

Starring: Robert Sean Leonard, Simon Gregor
With: Izzy Lee, Lucy Hutchinson/Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Gus Barry/Adam Scotland/Callum Henderson, Harry Bennett/Sebastian Clifford/Ewan Harris, Michele Austin, Richie Campbell, Christopher Ettridge, Tom Godwin, Stephen Kennedy, Phil King, Hattie Ladbury, Julie Legrand, Rona Morison, Joe Speare, Daniel Tuite.
Designed by Jon Bausor
Sound: Phil Hewitt
Composer: Phil King
Movement Director: Naomi Said
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick
Sound: Ian Dickinson
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 826 4242
Booking to 15th June 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 22nd May 2013 at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London NW1 4PX (Tube: Baker Street)

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