To Kill a Mockingbird, Theatre Royal, York

Reviewed,Jonathan Brown
Wednesday 23 February 2011 01:00
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It is 51 years since Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird was first published. Launched in the midst of the US Civil Rights protests, where young black men and women campaigned for the right to sit in the same public spaces as white citizens, the book captured brilliantly the simmering injustice of the time.

Since then, the novel and the film version, released two years later starring an Oscar-winning Gregory Peck, have both become stalwarts of essential viewing and reading lists.

However, it took another 30 years before Lee's novel made it to the stage. Yet the story works very well in the theatre – a medium perhaps even better suited to evoking the swelteringly repressive atmosphere of the Old South and the righteous fury at the treatment of farm labourer Tom Robinson.

York's Theatre Royal was packed to the rafters with an excited young crowd on the first leg of this highly enjoyable national touring production – proving that the attraction of the plot and its values remains undimmed.

Director Damian Cruden introduces a new dimension in the form of a grown-up Scout, languidly played by Jacqueline Wood, who narrates the action, while her young self is performed with flouncy energy by Grace Rowe.

Atticus Finch, the white-suited lawyer and towering role model is played by Duncan Preston, perhaps best known to viewers of BBC sitcom Dinner Ladies. He brings a powerful moral force to the part and there are some genuinely tense moments – particularly in the lynch mob scene.

But the play really comes alive during the second half – even for those fully aware of the outcome – and when the court scene reaches its grim climax it is impossible not to feel as outraged as you did the first time you read the book.

To 26 February (01904 623568); then touring to 16 May

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