To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favourite books. Even though it’s one of the few books in my collection I can’t quite account for. I don’t know when I first read it or how I even came about reading it, I don’t think I ever studied and I’ve never actually taught it, except for one interview lesson on Chapter 12, although I have marked more than enough exam papers on it. At some point however I discovered it, read it and fell in love. Therefore, when my dad offered to book us tickets for the opening night at Norwich Theatre Royal, I just about snapped his hand off.
Although I try to approach adaptations of well loved books with an open mind, I still feel a sense of apprehension just before I subject myself to someone else’s imagining. As I flicked through the programme beforehand I marked off who looked to be well cast and who didn’t. Really I wanted to see who was playing Boo Radley because, although he barely appears in the novel, his casting could make or break this for me. If anything, on first impressions I thought Christopher Akrill too good looking for the part, and I sincerely hoped Daniel Betts was up to the role of Atticus Finch. Especially as, by the looks of the audience, most of them would have Gregory Peck firmly in mind.
The play unfolds as a mix of storytelling and acted scenes. Every cast member, bar the Finch family and Dill, has a copy of the book and they take it in turns to voice Scout’s narration. Almost as much is left out as was kept in, but not to the detriment of the narrative. It is exceedingly well delivered and the casting is absolutely spot on. Ryan Pope’s Bob Ewell is as vile a human being as you could imagine, Zackary Momoh is heartbreaking as Tom Robinson – his turn on the stand was utterly moving – and Connor Brundish is completely Dill. Arthur Franks and Ava Potter shone in their respective roles of Jem and Scout Finch. Ava, in her professional theatre debut, pretty much carries the play, and the rest of the cast switch seamlessly from storytellers to players and back again.
Timothy Sheader’s imagining of To Kill a Mockingbird manages to successfully balance the humour of Harper Lee’s novel with it’s unforgiving insight into 1930’s America and the attitudes to race and class at the time. From the moment the opening line of the novel is read out, the audience is swept up in the story and carried spellbound until Scout’s final words on the Radley’s porch. This stage version, at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday 27th September, with it’s mix between good old fashioned storytelling and gripping drama, is an absolute must see.