Theatre review: To Kill a Mockingbird, Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, London
Thursday 23 May 2013
The only sin Scout Finch, the eight-year-old narrator of Harper Lee’s classic novel, has ever heard her lawyer father denounce was to kill a mockingbird; they do nothing but make music for us to enjoy.
The corruption of innocence is as much Lee’s theme as the rape and racism that disfigure a small Alabama town in the Depression, scene of Gregory Peck’s Oscar-winning turn as Atticus Finch in the movie, and now the setting in Regent’s Park for a quiet, shadowy but highly effective performance by Robert Sean Leonard.
Sean Leonard, who first (and last) appeared on the London stage in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town twenty years ago, and is best known as Hugh Laurie’s sidekick, Dr James Wilson, in the Fox television series, House, moves deliberately through the play (the authorised, standard adaptation by the late Christopher Sergel) in true Peck style, even down to the horn-rimmed specs and crumpled white suit.
In the great courtroom scene, where he’s defending a dignified Tom Robinson (Richie Campbell) on a trumped-up rape charge, he shows how the defendant couldn’t have throttled his alleged victim from behind by throwing him a glass to catch one-handed; the left hand is useless, mangled in a cotton gin years ago.
It’s a moment of stunning revelation in Timothy Sheader’s production, all the more so for being low key. In a theatre where Shakespeare has been the summer norm for decades, Sheader and his team are now finding a Shakespearean dimension, and reverberation, in modern classics like The Crucible and Lord of the Flies.
The actors materialise among the audience, each reading from a different edition of the book. This device both honours the source and suggests the childish wisdom in Scout’s narrative, and the actors are continuously referring their performances back to the text.
This lightness of touch throws Sean Leonard’s gravitas into relief, so that his saint-like Finch – derided on all sides for “lawing for niggers” -- acquires a rock-like stillness in a ferment of nattering.
At the same time, the work-obsessed widower is negotiating a new relationship with his own children, played with wide-eyed ingenuity (at the performance I saw) by Izzy Lee as Scout and Adam Scotland as Jem in denim boiler-suits.
Sheader’s production, played on a tilted, chalk board setting by Jon Bausor, is very good at maintaining this emotional three-way dynamic between community, children and the shades of fear and ignorance.
To 15 June (0844 826 4242)
Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boymusic
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rape threats, death threats and a police investigation after video poking fun at an Islamic Party in Malaysia goes viral
- 2 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 3 Gamers confess the worst things they've done in The Sims
- 4 6-year-old writes ice cold Valentine's card to his stepmother
- 5 Syrian child photographed 'surrendering to camera because she thought it was a gun'
Tidal launch: The most pretentious lines from Alicia Keys' valedictory speech
Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
Tidal launch: Madonna insists Jay Z's new streaming service is 'not about consumption and greed'
Top Gear live to go ahead: Jeremy Clarkson to join Richard Hammond and James May... just don't call it Top Gear
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold
Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
Katie Hopkins reported to the police for race hatred by Labour MP Simon Danczuk after tweet about Pakistani men