When you’re heading out in London to see you a play, there isn’t much more that you can hope for than a great story, excellent performances, a mesmerising production and a stunning venue and that’s exactly what you get with To Kill A Mockingbird at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. The bad new for anyone that hasn’t been lucky enough to get tickets is that the adaptation of Harper Lee’s great American novel will be finishing it’s London stint on the 13th September 2014, but with a UK tour for the production to follow there’ll be plenty of chances to see it in a city near you.
On the down side, though, the tour will mean that you miss out on the magical delights of the Regent’s Park venue, which is like walking into the secret garden, so if you missed it this year, we recommend keeping an eye out for 2015 tickets. It’s the second year in a row for the production of To Kill A Mockingbird at the Open Air Theatre, as it returned in August 2014, following up on the popularity of it’s first series of performances in 2013.
The first thing that hits you as you’re taking your seat – other than the strength of the gin and ginger ale in the Open Air cocktail, which we’re a big of – is that the set is about as stripped back as it gets with a simple rectangular stage with a lone tree seemingly growing up through it dangling a tyre swing, all backed by a corrugated iron fence. While it would be kind of cool to see a production of To Kill A Mockingbird with a beautifully crafted, state-of-the-art set change mechanism, the reality is that the simplicity of the stage setting let’s the story and performances shine through brilliantly.
The intent behind this becomes even more apparent when the play gets underway with music and snippets read out from the book, as the cast start to draw out the layout of little street in Maycombe, Alabama with chalk on the stage. This makes for an added level of intensity somehow to all of the scenes as the genius of the story takes the centre stage with little, if any distractions to speak of.
For anyone not familiar with the story, it’s one of the greatest ever told, and we’ve recently escalated our opinion of the book to say that we think that everyone should read it at least once a year, let alone just once. It’s set in the heart of the deep south during the Great Depression, and while there are a lot of adult themes at the heart of the story, including rape and racism, the fact that it’s told from the perspective of six-year-old Scout Finch means that there’s warmth, humour and hope in the story too.
It’s a book that’s almost overwhelming in it’s insight into human nature and deep seated morality and these elements are lifted to the forefront of the play, as you’d expect. While it would be easy to assume that strength of the story would be enough to make any production powerful, the presence of a great cast, unique creative design from Jon Bausor and the meticulous direction that Timothy Sheader brings to the production results in a very memorable night.
Strong performance from Daniel Betts as Atticus Finch, Scout’s gentlemanly and wise father, Zackary Momoh as Tom Robinson, the man Atticus must defend in the case at the centre of the story, and Susan Lawson-Reynolds as Calpurnia, the Finch family cook and maid, all go into to making the play work as well as it did. However, the real stars of the show are the kids at the centre of it, with evidence of a deep understanding of of the roles they play.
Our only real negative is that the closing scenes seem to pass by a little too quickly, without working the momentousness of the elements to their ultimate culmination. The walk home from the Halloween pageant for Scout and Gem lacks the fear factor and sense of being hunted down that it has in the book and the conversation between Atticus and Sheriff Heck Tate at the end of the frantic conclusion of the walk didn’t quite have the same moral indecision either.
However, it was an excellent production with it’s own style and delivery that did a very good job of recreating the amazing intelligence of Harper Lee’s original work. If you’re keen on seeing it all for yourself, you can find out more with our To Kill A Mockingbird UK tour page.
To Kill A Mockingbird review, Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park: 4.7/5