Having absolutely adored Harper Lee’s novel, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, when studying it, and with my mom giving us rave reviews of when she saw a theatre production of it, we decided to give the production currently at the Wolverhampton Grand a visit.
And to be honest, it was a bit hit and miss.
The play was focused around the trial, so all the incidents that build Scout’s character, as well as those which build the intensity of Boo Radley’s dramatised existence, are lost. However, the trial itself was incredibly engaging, particularly the Ewell’s performances (although it was difficult to keep a straight face when Mayella’s accent came out to play). Tom’s innocence was evident, but so was Atticus’ position between a rock and a hard place: these being the truth and social pressures that shape community lives. Jem, Scout and Dill’s reactions to the trial also built up a convincing picture of its ramifications, altering the course of Maycomb history with its unprecedented strive for equality.
For me, thought, Atticus’ performance was a major miss. He was not the caring, quiet yet wisely powerful man I envisioned: instead, Duncan Fisher’s Atticus was a little too firm in his beliefs, bordering on preaching instead of quietly noble. He didn’t seem to connect with the kids like they bonded with one another before our eyes: a characteristic felt by many of the other adult actors, particularly Walter Cunningham in the scene outside of the jail where Tom Robinson was being held.
Boo Radley was also a major disappointment. This culminated in him opening his mouth. Instead of maintaining the illusion of his mysterious background, Boo Radley was brought slightly too far into the light. Being led around by Scout, and being instructed on how to be a gentleman, were all pretty little touches to show his naivety, but it’s easy to build an unknown character up in your mind to disproportionate heights, and this Boo dashed them quite expertly. I think it was the fact that he didn’t sound at all like I expected: the slightly weedy voice was an anticlimax to such a romanticised ghost-man.
Accents were also a major issue. Jem’s ranged from southern American to scouser within a few short words, the judge almost sounded Irish, and the supporting cast tended to stick with the conventional American accent to avoid this plight. Scout’s was fairly steady though, and the Ewell’s (despite Mayella’s comic beginnings) were among the most perfected.
The Ewell’s storyline, I thought, was the one that had the most justice done to it. Mayella’s abuse at the hands of her father was evident, but pity for her moved from overflowing to evaporating when she echoed her father’s contempt for Atticus. This contempt highlighted her conflict: unable to recognise Atticus’ sincerity when previously faced with her father’s abuse, Mayella’s temper flared to deflect her guilt onto those surrounding her.
Overall, I really do think the novel makes the play harder to digest: it seems undernourished in terms of plot, and the characters pale into significance whilst the play tries to bring out the larger issues at stake. While these issues are all dealt with sensitively and befitting the historical situation, I don’t feel like they’re enough to carry the play alone. What the theatrical production really lacked, therefore, was the passion of those involved: everyone seemed to be working towards the ending, without paying heed to their peripheral vision. It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird, and I’m not entirely sure this play did much to keep that mockingbird alive.