Last Updated on 1st April 2022
Paul T Davies reviews Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird adapted for the stage by Aaron Sorkin now playing at the Gielgud Theatre, London.
To Kill A Mockingbird
Gielgud Theatre, London
31 March 2022
This is one classic that does not need a re-imagining. Harper Lee’s enduring novel is one of those rare books that truly deserves its accolade of “beloved”, and Aaron Sorkin’s masterly adaptation preserves the story and places contemporary concerns firmly centre stage. Sorkin loves a debate, (The West Wing, A Few Good Men), and here we are swiftly taken into the courtroom by a trio of narrators, and events are beautifully paced in Bartlett Sher’s elegant production. The trail of “coloured” man Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman, exposes the racism rife in county Maycombe in the 1930s, and Atticus’s defence of him is still, tragically, relevant.
Our narrators are the children: Scout, a superb performance by Gwyneth Keyworth, capturing perfectly her defiance and enquiring mind, Jem Finch, who, in Harry Redding’s skilled and majestic performance, grows into a man in front of our eyes, and a show-stealing performance by David Moorst as Dill, whose sexuality is more than hinted to. Dill will live his life as an Outsider, facing the same persecution that Robinson did, but the point is beautifully conveyed in his sensitive performance. The material is shaped wonderfully, the narrative and events clear.
The last time I saw Rafe Spall on stage, it was his visceral solo performance in Death of England at the National. Here, as Atticus Finch, he knows this is a marathon, not a sprint, and he gives the most humane performance of Atticus that I’ve seen. His humour and warmth is evident from the start, yet his passion explodes during the trail, and his belief that everyone is fundamentally good, is both his weakness and his strength. This is underlined in excellent scenes between Atticus and his black housemaid Calpurnia, the outstanding Pamela Nomvete, their prickly relationship and her “passive aggressiveness” firmly explaining that he will never, NEVER, experience life the way a black person does in that county- and in a town that she sees a different side to.
Sorkin does not flinch from using the N word, but he puts it in the mouths of the correct characters and correct context, and racist Bob Ewell is a vivid member of the KKK in Patrick O’Kanes skilled performance. There are so many beautiful moments, and when Boo Radley is coaxed into the limelight by Scout, it’s a deeply moving moment that takes us through to the play’s conclusion.
I learnt everything I know about racism when I read the book when I was 15. Post George Floyd, the story is even more relevant, and, surely, it’s time for a movie remake, using Sorkin’s superb script. This is one of the best night’s in the theatre you can have, and will be one of the West End’s hits this year. All rise indeed.