The last time I reviewed Christopher Sergel’s stage version of Harper Lee’s iconic, Pulitzer prize winning novel, To Kill A Mocking Bird, writes Pippa Munro Hebden, I called it enchanting and engrossing and all I can say of Elizabeth Newman’s production at Bolton’s Octagon is that is just that, in spades!
This is one of my and my children’s favourite novels and I still give it as a gift to young friends. Although set in the racist Southern USA in 1935, it has not dated. The central character Atticus (superbly played by Rob Edwards) is the voice of conscience and understanding that we all should have. He has the courage to defend the unjustly accused black man Tom Robinson (movingly portrayed by Marc Small) in the Alabama town of Maycomb from the false accusation of the appalling Tom Ewell (Harry Long) and his brutalised daughter Mayella (Leila Mimmack).
A wonderful cast give splendid performances in support and enormous praise must be given to Amanda Stoodley and her design team. Together they create a vivid sense of the heat and proximity of the houses where Atticus and his children live which transfers seamlessly into the court scene, one of the most impressive court scenes in modern literary and film history.
However, if you know the story (and if you don’t, go read the book now) it is the children who are the key figures. Atticus has a son, Jem, and a daughter Scout (Jean Louise) and they befriend Dill who leads them into the game of trying to get the weird and isolated Bo Radley out of his mysterious house. Barbara Drennan plays the adult Scout/narrator, commenting on the action and this production preserves the subtle, skilful circularity of Lee’s original construction. There are two teams of child actors for the run of performances and the team I saw on my visit were absolutely amazing. I was so impressed by their command of the script, the emotions and vocal projection. I have no idea what their plans for the future are but should I come across their names as acting stars of the future, I shall not be surprised. They add so much to the authenticity of the production. Go! Fight for a ticket for this. And think on Atticus’ wisdom about seeing the world from someone else’s viewpoint and protecting the innocent! On October 21st David Thacker’s production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale will start.
To Kill a Mocking Bird: Octagon Theatre, Bolton, until October 15th.