Directed by Anne Somes
Canberra REP at Theatre 3 to 13 April
Reviewed by Len Power 29 March 2019
The novel, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, by Harper Lee was published in 1960 and has never been out of print since that time. It won the Pulitzer Prize for literature and had a very successful film adaptation in 1962.
Christopher Sergel’s dramatization of the novel was first performed in 1990. It runs every year in May on the county courthouse grounds of Monroe, Alabama – Harper Lee’s hometown - and townspeople make up the cast. A new play, adapted by Aaron Sorkin, opened on Broadway in 2018 and is still running.
Set in 1935, the play focuses on the trial of a black man accused of rape at a time of racial tensions and bigotry in a southern state of the USA. Young white brother and sister, Scout and Jem, learn some strong lessons about life as they watch their lawyer father, Atticus Finch, defend the accused man.
On a stark setting by Cate Clelland that suits the themes of the play, the director of the play, Anne Somes, keeps the play moving at a good pace and has obtained strongly detailed performances from her large cast of actors.
Particularly notable were Michael Sparks as the children’s father, Atticus Finch, Antonia Kitzel as the narrator, Maudie Atkinson, Jade Breen as Scout, Jamie Boyd as Jem, Jake Keen as Dill Harris, David Bennett as Judge Taylor, Stephanie Wilson as Mayella Ewell, Tim Stiles as Bob Ewell, Peter Holland as Horace Gilmer and Ian Russell as Heck Tate.
The high pitch of the children’s voices and their Southern accents made it difficult at times to hear everything they were saying. Speaking a little slower might help overcome that problem. The negro spirituals sung by the cast for atmosphere during scene changes were rather too downbeat and it’s doubtful whether white people in that era and locality would have been singing those songs.
Costumes by Fiona Leach nicely evoked the period and fashions of the time in a Depression-era small town. Stephen Still’s atmospheric lighting design worked well and was particularly effective when focussed on the smaller playing areas.
This is a good production of an important story that is electrifying if it’s a first exposure to it and a moving and powerful reminder for the rest of us that we still have a long way to go to obtain peace and harmony in this world.
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.