To Kill a Mockingbird

8 Apr

To be honest, I’ve never especially enjoyed the novel. It’s too episodic. And then there’s the whole told-from-a-child’s-point-of-view thing. It’s not the way I like my politics.

And there’s the message. And there is a MESSAGE: that you need to walk in someone else’s shoes before you can judge them. So bleedingly obvious!

Of course, I’m being facetious. I’m one of the many who’ve been unconsciously shaped by this classic.

Photographs © Bob Seary

Photo © Bob Seary

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most popular stories of the 20th Century. It encapsulates the drive for social justice that’s one of the crowning achievements of our culture. Or, it could be strongly argued, the novel didn’t so much encapsulate as cause. Like Dickens in the 19th century, Harper Lee was one of those voices that pushed our society to something better. (Yes, I believe literature can change the world.)

Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation retains the power of the novel. Annette Rowlison’s production is amusing, engaging and very affecting. Lynden Jones as Atticus Finch has an extraordinary vulnerability that makes his performance deeply moving. The child actors (Teagan Croft, Hudson Musty and Kai Lewins) must carry a large part of the story, and they’re some of the best young performers I’ve seen. Dave Kirkham’s Sheriff Tate is a wonderful portrait of the simple but good man struggling with issues he’d rather avoid.

Set designer Sasha Sinclair gives us the town of Maycomb as a series of run down houses, evoked by their front doors. This might seem awkward when the story becomes a courtroom drama, but ultimately it’s an incredibly effective image. To Kill a Mockingbird is not really Scout’s story. It’s Maycomb’s; the larger world’s. Maudie Atkinson is given a narrator’s role in the stage version, and she’s played with a warm intelligence by Sarah Carroll. Maudie has the feel of the omniscient stage manager from Thornton Wilders’ Our Town, and her voice reminds us it’s Maycomb that’s really on trial. That the town can’t stand Atticus’ defence of Tom Robinson shows it’s guilty of a social blindness that’s deep and abiding.

Exactly how far we’ve come in the last fifty years regarding racial bigotry is an open question.  But theatre like this leads us to continue to ask that question. And to ask where else our blindness might lie.

For in fifty years, will later generations say that we had our doors shut tight, blind to the bleedingly obvious.

Veronica Kaye


To Kill a Mockingbird

New Theatre til 19 April

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