To Kill a Mockingbird. By Christopher Sergel, adapted from the novel by Harper Lee. Directed by Anne Somes. Canberra Repertory Society. Theatre 3, Repertory Lane, Acton. Bookings: canberrarep.org.au or 62571950. Until April 13.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a deeply thoughtful piece about justice and human rights that has never, unfortunately, lost its relevance. Based on Harper Lee’s 1962 novel, the play is set in Alabama in 1935, where black man Tom Robinson (Jack Tinga) is about to be tried for rape and white lawyer Atticus Finch (Michael Sparks) is set to defend him in a courtroom where only white men will form the jury.
The genius of the story in the skilled hands of director Anne Somes is the way events are seen through the eyes of three children.
Widower Atticus has two, Scout (Jade Breen) and Jem (Jamie Boyd). They are joined by the clever but somewhat adrift Dill (Jake Keen) who finds some refuge with Atticus’s family. Black housekeeper Calpurnia (Jaiti Khosla) holds the household together with quiet domestic authority but the children, particularly the questioning Scout, are an odd bunch. It’s their growing up that is the main focus of the play as they begin to recognise the difficulties and injustices of the adult world.
The visuals lean toward the surreal in Cate Clelland’s simple set of platforms and screens. Here shadows can appear with great power and tree roots twine out into the space even when the furniture of the court room is unobtrusively brought in. The odd strange colour choice in Stephen Still’s lighting is offset by selectivity and mood that will work very well once the cueing settles down. And the gentle singing by the large cast, sometimes individually as a shadow cast on the screens, sometimes in groups, supports the atmosphere of the faded town.
As narrator Maudie Atkinson, Antonia Kitzel is understanding and warm and has good animated moments with fellow townswoman Stephanie Atkinson (amusing work from Adele Lewin).
In the courtroom Stephanie Wilson as Tom Robinson’s accuser Mayella Ewell and Tim Stiles as her father Bob Ewell sketch in a compelling picture of the poverty, abuse and racism that has led to the charge.
As Tom, Tinga gives an excellent and intelligent performance, maintaining a powerful dignity in the face of accusation.
Sparks is pretty well everything you’d want in a portrayal of Atticus. He catches the humour and the truths of the father raising motherless children and the lawyer battling for truth in an impossible situation. Toward the end there’s a tense scene with Sherriff Heck Tate (Ian Russell), beautifully handled by both performers, where the lawyer and the father in Atticus are brought into conflict.
But it’s the children who are at the heart of the matter. Apart from a need on opening night to nail clearer diction (and there was some competition from heavy rain on the roof), Breen, Boyd and Keen make a powerful and spirited trio as they sadly shed some illusions and reach toward growing up.
This Mockingbird is definitely worth a visit.
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