Review: ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ @ Wolverhampton Grand

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.

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Review: ‘Blood Brothers’ @ Birmingham Hippodrome

Blood Brothers @ the Hippodrome.

One incredibly heartbreaking performance later, and I can’t wait for the next time I get to witness the immensely superb piece of theatre that is ‘Blood Brothers’.

The story is laid out before you by the Narrator (Robbie Scotcher), whose presence is a railing to control your experience, and build tension until the bitter end. Despite knowing the outcome before the origins, it didn’t stop every moment taunting you with its inevitability: it only heightened the climax to a point where you were crying just from knowing that the debt had to paid, and that walking on the cracks in the pavement would cost you more dearly than you could imagine. It sent shivers down my spine when he sang of hell knocking at the door, bringing the conclusion ever-closer by constantly quickening the pace.

Niki Evans was outstanding as Mrs Johnstone: she was able to go from Marilyn Monroe to aging mother in a matter of seconds, yet never lost her evident zeal for the performance. She never faltered and had a superb voice that was clearly wasted on the ‘X Factor’ – she was meant to be Mrs Johnstone. I was also amazed by Mickey (Sean Jones) and Eddie (Paul Davies) – both men convinced me I was watching them grow up, and not that I was watching two adults pretending to be children. They were absolutely perfectly in tune with one another, which broke your heart even more, because we could see their bond beyond was it was, yet they could never name this link as true brotherhood. Mickey in particular kept me on the edge of my seat, particularly the prison scene where his descent began, and alongside the Narrator kept you wondering about the ‘what if’s’ and ‘if only’s’ that frame Mickey’s final moments.

What I particularly liked about the storyline was that it didn’t entirely revolve around the unknown brothers fighting over Linda (Kelly-Anne Gower): it was entirely about love, and what both had lost and received, but Linda was more of a catalyst to the finale as opposed to the sole cause, highlighting the gulf over which the twins friendship lay through their tragic beginning. While Eddie is allowed to grow up in one direction, Mickey is pushed and pulled everywhere, by Sammy (Danny Taylor) and unemployment and his upbringing. Yet Eddie is sheltered through fear of him discovering the truth, and as Mrs Lyons (Tracy Spencer) rightly points out, this means he’s never been hers, and you don’t see the same loving relationship between those two develop as you do with Mrs Johnstone and the son she raised. Both want the life they couldn’t have, which should have been a life they could have shared.

The music was breathtaking – it was both lyrical and expanded on the story, as opposed to singing for the sake of it, and it all worked towards an end goal, as well as lulling us into the belief that life could still be fixed, until the Narrator’s ominous hellish repertoire broke the comfort you nearly felt. In this way, the music never allows you to sit in comfort, you are constantly battling your emotions and desperate to see how the blood brothers will discover the truth before the superstition becomes reality.

The only thing I would have like to have seen, but that was definitely not a minus on the story, was Mr Lyons coping with losing his son twice – once to a tragic accident, and once again when he discovered the truth behind his lineage. It would have been fascinating to see Mr Lyons devastation as well as Mrs Johnstones, but equally this could have detracted from the simple sentimentality that ruled her final embrace of both her sons. The final scene truly captured the entire devastation of the play, as the revelations and questions that go unanswered through the gunfire keep the audience reminiscing throughout the finale song. The haunting “tell me it isn’t true” genuinely makes you wish you could, that you could rewind and tell Mrs Johnstone that superstitions are only made real by the superstitious. Mickey’s final question of why it wasn’t him brings the play to a full circle, proving that the beginning was a genius means of reaching the end, which has only made me want to go back for more. The standing ovation was well-deserved, and if I could have applauded for longer I really would have.