The family went to see the disappointing ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ at The Theatre Royal Nottingham yesterday.
The Rees family seems to be haunted by the Harper Lee’s book: Ellie had it for GCSE so we’ve all read it several times and given the movie a couple of viewings. I think we all agreed that it was an ‘important book’ so everyone was excited about having the opportunity of seeing the characters in the flesh, so to speak.
As I say the production was a disappointment and this, despite the valiant efforts by the players and some very effective stage effects. The fundamental problem was, I think, the script itself. This stage version was written by Christopher Sergel back in 1970 and forty years on it creaked. Overly reverential to Harper Lee’s book it was not a stage adaptation as much as a staged recreation – as Ellie, my daughter, remarked, the only way they could have made it any drier was by simply having one of the actors read from the book.
My other major gripe was the use of a grown-up Scout acting as narrator. This destroyed any chance of the audience suspending disbelief and gutted the play of any tension: every point of conflict was signalled well in advance and there was no room left for the audience to make up its own mind. The narrator also eliminated the childlike naiveté of Scout which, for me, was one of the main strengths of the book. This was a case of too much ‘tell’ and not enough ‘show’.
Compounding these problems the ponderous nature of some of the scenes, a number of which were simply superfluous. I was left with the feeling that to work on the stage the story had to be reworked, with the courtroom scene coming at the end. Sacrilegious I know but better to be contentious than boring.
It would have taken supreme acting skills to have overcome these obstacles. Duncan Preston as Atticus Finch was good but too hectoring – almost peevish – in his handling of Scout and Jem. But then, I suppose, Gregory Peck casts a long shadow. Grace Rowe was too old to be a convincing Scout, whilst Matthew Pattimore’s Jem simply didn’t convince.
One upbeat aspect was the set design. The staging and the lighting effectively evoked the despairing emptiness of a 1935 America gripped by depression and I thought the use of video inspired.
All-in-all a flat, boring production, an opinion shared by the rest of the audience if the rather begrudging applause at the end was any indication.