To Kill A Mockingbird, Regent’s Park Open Air, ✭✭✭✭

Director Timothy Sheader doesn’t disappoint in this beautiful, thoughtful and playful production of Chistopher Sergel’s tear-jerking adaptation of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. The story is set in Maycomb, Alabama during the Depression, and the events unfold through the eyes of eight year old Scout Finch.

Sheader, as with Ragtime last summer, places the emphasis on storytelling, and asks that the audience bring  imagination to the production. The actors materialise from the audience, reading from versions of the novel, sharing Scout’s narration. The whole cast, progressively donning period costumes as required, draw a map with chalk onto Jon Bausor’s pitched chalkboard-like stage to show the l town. It is a beautifully simple and yet effective concept; the playfulness highlights the initial childish roguishness of Scout, her brother Jem, and their dreamy summer visitor Dill.

Izzy Lee is the lynchpin of the production, and she plays the loveable tomboy Scout with emotion and sincerity

Scout’s lawyer father, Atticus, much to the derision of friends and neighbours builds a strong case to defend Tom Robinson, a young black man accused of violently raping a young white woman. The inevitable corruption of youthful innocence is as much a focus of the play as the themes of racial injustice, prejudice and courage. It is one of the greatest strengths of the piece that this grown-up and complex story is seen through the eyes of children. It clarifies the issues, using a child’s natural sense of right and wrong, until we are questioning, just like them, why on earth the world is treating Tom like they are.

Izzy Lee is the lynchpin of the production, and she plays the loveable tomboy Scout with emotion and sincerity. She is hardly ever offstage and performs with incredible professionalism and commitment. She is perfectly matched by Adam Scotland as Jem, and by the superb Harry Bennett who plays the imaginative Dill charmingly.

Robert Sean Leonard, best known for his role in Fox television series House, plays Atticus with total command and power. He also captures the sense of melancholy that plagues any saint-like character. Leonard doesn’t oversimplify the character, and he doesn’t ever feel like a goody two-shoes. His delivery of the closing address in the courtroom scene holds the audience perfectly, and throughout he nails Atticus’ witty, wise temperament.

A brilliant ensemble vibrantly brings the town’s characters to life. Particularly strong are Michele Austin as housekeeper Calpurnia, Richie Campbell as terrified prisoner Tom, Hattie Ladbury as well-meaning neighbour Miss Maudie and Julie Legrand as a variety of old gossips. Rona Morison is heartbreakingly torn as the supposed victim Mayella in her appearance in court.

This is another fabulous production from a theatrical force to be reckoned with. Take tissues, and perhaps a warm jacket.

**** (4 stars)
Runs until June 15th
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