REVIEW: To Kill A Mockingbird @ Theatre Royal, Newcastle (20.4.15) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Many will remember holding copies of To Kill A Mockingbird in class many moons ago. Outside the Theatre Royal this evening, a large crowd of teenagers were being assembled by teachers; a new generation exposed, getting ready to see what they have been reading in class reimagined in Christopher Sergel’s now-touring stage adaptation.

As all are finding their seats, the stage is bare, except for a sturdy tree with a rubber-tire swing hanging from one of the branches, and some chairs and a bed tucked to the right hand side. The conversation is lively and loud on this well-attended opening night but a firm whistle from one of the actors raises the attention to the full cast now at the front of the stage, each holding a copy of Harper Lee’s novel, and the play begins.

Each taking turns to read an opening passage of Scout’s account from the original text, the play outlays a device it will use throughout, helping move each scene to flow into the next, and to narrate this tale of courage, prejudice and hope for justice with the eyes and innocence of a young girl’s perspective.

This production benefits from being seen from a balcony, as the cast quickly build the town in a two-dimensional map on the floor in chalk and set the locations that various characters will visit throughout the story, including Mrs Dubose’s and Boo Radley’s homes, and the jail where Tom Robinson awaits his fate. The first half of the play runs quickly from scene to scene, introducing various tensions and relationships, each being presented like a miniature fable within this larger essay on humanity. Luke Potter adds a further depth to the spirits in this town with light accompanying music from a tenor ukulele or steel-string guitar, and singing too.

In the second half, the story is played out in an extended courtroom scene where Atticus Finch (whose enduring strength throughout is portrayed excellently by Daniel Betts) unravels the lies and prejudices of the prosecuting witnesses, including the drunk and abusive Bob Ewell, whose villainy is instantly palpable the minute Ryan Pope swaggers the character on stage. By the time the wrongly-accused Tom Robinson relays his perspective on the events, the whole theatre was hanging on to Zachary Momoh’s understated and powerful delivery.

As the original story is given heart and strength from its strong youthful characters, the future of theatre is given light for the acting quality of its cast’s younger members. It’s hard to believe that this is Jemima Bennett’s debut role acting in professional theatre as she confidently moves within Scout’s skin, showing us all of the character’s cockiness and confusion. The chemistry between the actors playing the three childhood companions is wonderfully natural, with each also making individual moments memorable too; Harry Bennett as Jem tearing up the flowers, and Leo Heller as Dill telling his exaggerated stories.

Though rich in moments and detail, the show flew by and as the lights faded on Atticus and Scout, the audience pounced into applause before the blackout. As the clapping went long and beyond any social formality, each member of the cast humbly raised their copy of the book to show their debt to this brilliant story.

To Kill A Mockingbird runs at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal until Saturday 25th April.

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