To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my very favourite books, so I had mixed emotions about watching The Barbican’s stage adaptation. It’s hard to watch someone else’s interpretation of a story you love, especially when you’ve already imagined exactly how the characters look and act. I wasn’t disappointed however – Christopher Sergel’s adaptation was brilliant, and the performances by the cast, in particular the children playing Scout, Jem and Dill, were both funny and heart-warming.
The play was originally staged at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, and still has largely the same cast, but now stars Robert Sean Leonard (House, Dead Poets Society) as Atticus Finch. It opens with the cast reading from Harper Lee’s novel, and drawing in chalk on the stage floor, mapping out the neighbourhood where the Finch family live. This was a great way to set the scene and keep the play true to the original story. The only thing which didn’t quite fit for me, was the accents they used to read the book. It’s set in Alabama, and for the rest of the play all the characters had Southern American accents, so it seemed odd to have the book (which is narrated by Scout) read in native British accents.
The only other adaptation I’ve watched of To Kill A Mockingbird is the award-winning 1962 film version starring Gregory Peck. I actually found Sergel’s production better in many ways, as it didn’t feel as rushed or abridged. True, they did have to skip over certain aspects of the story, but ardent fans should be pacified by the inclusion of Mrs Dubose and her camellias, which was not included in the film. The court room scenes did not dominate the play, as they do in the film, but they were excellently staged with the audience positioned as the jury. Although many members of the cast had relatively small roles, such as those of Bob and Mayella Ewell, they were very well done and the actors made the scenes as uncomfortable as they are intended to be.
For many readers, the book is important as much for its depiction of childhood as its portrayal of race issues in America. An adaptation needs to capture the innocence of Scout and the idyllic nature of her childhood for the full impact to be felt when this crashes down around her. The Barbican’s production did a good job of depicting this, without being overly sentimental. Overall this play was one of the best I’ve seen in London, and if I was disappointed, it was only because it was over so quickly.