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To Kill a Mockingbird - Review

by Tigger23 

Posted: 28 October 2006
Word Count: 621

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To Kill a Mockingbird – Birmingham Rep Theatre –

Harper Lee’s iconic novel of racial prejudice, injustice, and humanity was presented as a powerhouse piece of theatre when it played to a sell out audience at Birmingham Rep Theatre.

The novel, set in 1935, in the fictional town of Maycomb tells the story of Atticus Finch, a principled, strong willed lawyer and his attempts to seek justice in an atmosphere filled with tension. The story is told from the view point of Scout and Jem, Atticus’s two children, and what they see unravelling in their small town.

The children, Scout and Jem and their friend Dill want a father who is more adventurous and exciting, and when they found out that he is the best shot in Maycomb county (after saving his street from a rabid dog) they are more impressed by him, but he wants to keep the fact a secret. One of their neighbour’s, a recluse named Boo Radley is a source of fascination for the children, and something of a local bogeyman. Atticus tells his children they should try to be more understanding saying that they don’t properly know a man until they have ‘tried walking around in his shoes’.

Gregory Peck played the part of Atticus Finch in the 1963 film, and his performance is widely seen as one of the defining performances in world film history. Duncan Preston, more widely known for his roles in comedy (Surgical Spirit, Acorn Antiques, and The Harry Enfield Show, to name a few) takes the role in this production. Gregory Peck played the role as a hero, but here it is played more as an everyman role. We see that Atticus Finch does not have the answers, he is simply a man trying to do his best to make the world a slightly better place, and to be an example to his children, and this gives the role much more humanity.

Three adult actors, Bettrys Jones playing eight year old Jean Louise Finch, Craig Vye as Jem Finch and Jean-Marc Perret as Charles Baker Harris (Dill – a part based around the author Truman Capote, a childhood friend of Harper Lee’s) had the emotional depth to play the wide eyed wonderment of childhood, and allowed the audience to suspend their disbelief.

In the role of Tom Robinson, an innocent black man charged with the rape of a white girl, Vinta Morgan played the role with the right amount of fear and panic. The scenes set in the courtroom were charged with emotion, with Atticus’s Finch’s soliloquy to the jury a heart felt plea to let humanity prevail over prejudice.

When the verdict is returned as guilty, the Finch children are as heartbroken as their father. Tom Robinson is later shot, trying to escape from Prison, while waiting for a retrial. Bob Ewell, who is responsible for the trial, having beaten up his own daughter to make Tom Robinson look responsible swears revenge on Finch, and harms both Jem and Scout trying to get back at the lawyer. The children are saved by the intervention of Boo Radley, who stabs Ewell. When the sheriff, Heck Tate (Stephen Casey) says Ewell fell on his knife, to spare Boo Radley from the limelight and attention it is a fitting ending to the story.

The themes contained within the play, such as racial and societal prejudice, a flawed justice system and bigotry, as well as the bravery that it takes for people to stand up and trying to make a change in a losing situation are as relevant today as they are in a book written in 1960’s and set in 1935.

The play runs at the Birmingham Rep Theatre until Saturday 18th November.

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Comments by other Members

Cornelia at 15:03 on 28 October 2006  Report this post
This is a very lucid account of a well-known story and you have brought out the essentials of the plot, characters and its themes very well. I would have liked some more details about this particular production as a stage adaptation - something about lighting, costumes and scenery, for example as well as a more individualised account of the actors.

As the play is still running it is not a good idea to reveal the ending as it might spoil it for audience members not familiar with the film or the book.

Incidentally, I thought of the book when I say 'Little Children' in the London Film Festival. In part a portrait of a child molester, it clearly frew on Harper Lee's vision of the way society demonises offenders.


Richard Brown at 09:49 on 31 October 2006  Report this post

I agree with Sheila that, given the fact that this is a well-known tale, it might be preferable to focus more on the particular production than the plot- a description of the set/lighting would be valuable. I also agree with the point about revealing the ending (maybe just omit the penultimate paragraph?) - though many people have read the book and recall the general drift there'll be many (such as me!) who have completely forgotten the outcome.

There's also the point (made elsewhere recently on WW) that critics are generally expected to have an opinion. I'm not sure whether or not you liked the production. Are you hoping your readers will go to see it?

Some more niggly points:

Para 2, line 1: The second comma should be after 'Maycomb'
Para 2, line 1: 'strong-willed'?
Para 3, line 3: 'neighbours'
Para 4: - there are 4 uses of the word 'role' and 1 of 'roles'

Enjoyable read, though.


Cornelia at 11:12 on 31 October 2006  Report this post
I love the thoroughness of your approach and the care you take to make clear why people should see a particular performance. I'm not alone in liking to read reviews of things I'm are never likely to see; respect for the work and performance tempered by a sensible critical approach is always a treat to read.

One tip I have gleaned from two journalism courses I've been on, and used in writing reviews is to present an argument in the first line and then follow it through. It doesn't have to be controversial or ground-breaking, but just some angle that will arrest the reader's attention. Here, for instance, it might be about why the book makes a better play than a read ( if you think it does) or what advantages the stage production has over the film ( or vice-versa).

You have some excellent exposition here, but as Richard says, did you like it? I've had the same response to early pieces I've written, and now ( I hope) I can generally inject some personal response or fresh angle - even if it's only about how I don't like restaurants at the same time as writing a review of one.

Maybe this piece could be framed by comments on company's current season or past successes - just a thought.


James Graham at 13:57 on 07 November 2006  Report this post
I would have gone to see this production after reading your review, especially as you mention that Duncan Preston plays Atticus differently from Gregory Peck. The idea that Atticus is played less heroically and as more of an 'everyman' is interesting and would have been enough to make me book a couple of seats. I don't live in the area, but this is still a good example of how a theatre review can be interesting even to someone who has no chance of seeing the play. I'm glad to know that Harper Lee's classic is still being adapted for the stage, and that someone has rethought the character of Atticus Finch.


Cornelia at 16:43 on 08 November 2006  Report this post
I've just read that it's to be done in London, at the Wimbledon Theatre in January, and as there's a two-for-one offer I think I'll make it the Christmas theatre treat for my husband and self. Thanks again fro the tip-off. I wonder if it's the same company?


scoops at 17:23 on 11 November 2006  Report this post

This was clearly a good production:-) A couple of things.

You don't actually get to the production till you're halfway through the review. This is a terrible waste of opportunity.

You spoil the suspense for the potential audience by telling us the whole story, including the ending!

A reviewer is looking at the production as a whole - the acting, direction, staging, pace and themes. It would be correct for you to compare the production with others, but to compare it with the film? If this was the London stage or Broadway and the part was being recreated by Brad Pitt, there might be some justification for it, but it's deeply unfair and misleading to introduce it when discussing a small theatre company's output - a bit like citing Shakespeare every time one is marking an English essay!

That said, it's great that the piece moved you to write it up. I'll look forward to the next review:-) Shyama

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