Monday, April 1, 2019

To Kill a Mockingbird - Canberra Rep

Review by John Lombard 

A dead tree with a tire swing looms over Maycomb County. In director Anne Somes’ To Kill a Mockingbird, childhood is a tree withering in the soil of a small town polarised by an interracial rape trial.

The play is adapted by Christopher Sergel from Harper Lee’s book, using narration by onlooker Maude to tape key moments of the novel together.

Antonia Kitzel is strong as the plain-talking Maude, but the prominent role of her character detracts from To Kill a Mockingbird as Scout Finch’s (Jade Breen) journey out of childhood.

Jade Breen is wonderfully controlled and believable as Scout, the rough-and-tumble daughter of fuddy-duddy lawyer Atticus Finch (Michael Sparks). Jamie Boyd as her impulsive brother Jem and Jake Keen as precocious fabulist Dill are also convincing, and the play is lucky to be supported by three talented child actors.

Michael Sparks seems born to play Atticus and gives an understated but persuasive performance, and his connection with the children is authentic.

But this is a brisk adaptation, with more than twenty actors on stage, sometimes only in brief cameos. Cameron Thomas for instance is great in his part but it is a waste that more was not done with this great actor.

The play comes to life in the tightly focused trial scene, where Michael Sparks’ Atticus has three wonderful performances to play off.

Jack Tinga as Tom Robinson and Stephanie Wilson as Mayella Ewell are both completely convincing as accused and accuser. Often we take Tom Robinson’s innocence for granted, but with emotions this raw it felt like the truth was impossible to grasp.

Tim Stiles completed the scene with a chuckling and perversely paternal Bob Ewell, a smug foil for Michael Sparks' humble Atticus.

Cate Clelland’s sparse and arid set gave the feeling of a town dried up by the Depression, where not even hope can take root.

The cast was generally too quiet, and not helped by pounding rain on opening night. The occasional fuzzy line did not obstruct the story, but some energy and humour was lost.

This is a solid but not remarkable production, one that satisfies but does not have the book's impact.