You’ll recall the story, which here is narrated directly to the audience by its three children. In the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, a white, liberal lawyer and moral man of the people Atticus Finch (played by a masterful Spall, commanding and humble in equal measure) has taken on the job of defending an innocent black man, Tom Robinson (an appropriately level Jude Owusu), accused of raping a young white woman. The story is told from the perspective of Finch’s daughter, an intelligent, six-year-old tomboy nicknamed Scout (Gwyneth Keyworth, fully encapsulating the heroine’s wide-eyed curiosity and feistiness), and is interlaced with her memories of summers spent playing with her brother Jem (LAMDA grad Harry Redding, in a worthy professional debut) and their friend Dill (a camp, neurotic and utterly loveable David Moorst).
Gwyneth Keyworth (Scout Finch), Harry Redding (Jem Finch), David Moorst (Dill Harris) and Rafe Spall (Atticus Finch). Photo: Marc Brenner
The incidents that follow Robinson’s trial prevent the story becoming one of white saviorism and are a stark reminder of just how dangerous a place the American South was for African-Americans following the Civil War. Yet how much has really changed in the last 90 years? 2020 saw the brutal murders of Black Americans George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of white police officers, and it was only (coincidentially) the same week that To Kill a Mockingbird officially opened on the West End that US President Joe Biden signed legislation deeming lynching a federal hate crime.
Sorkin developed his stage adaptation of the story in 2018, prior to the above incidents, but with Trump’s presidency and shockingly racist rhetoric providing a backdrop and inspiration for the script. This is most apparent in the verbal vomit of a dialled-up Bob Ewell (a slurring, swaggering Patrick O’Kane), a disenfranchised farmer obsessed and embittered by the prospect of equal opportunities for Black citizens, whose flippant drawl of the N-word will rightly make you wince.
Pamela Nomvete (Calpurnia) and Rafe Spall (Atticus Finch) Photo: Marc Brenner
Sorkin also gives a voice to the book's muted Black characters, most notably the maid Calpurnia (a memorable Pamela Nomvete, carrying the story’s anger and grit), who we hear address Finch as an equal, offering the Black perspective on the case and refusing to be grateful to him for doing the right thing by her people.
Sher’s production is still deeply rooted in the 30s though, with Sorkin plucking out the poetry of Lee’s writing, letting poignant lines like Finch’s ‘A mob is a place where people take a break from their conscience’ (which takes on new meaning in the age of social media trolling and cancel culture) hang in the air.
Jude Owusu (Tom Robinson) and John Hastings (Baliff). Photo: Marc Brenner
The drama plays out on an intricately detailed yet uncluttered set designed by Miriam Buether (The Jungle, What If If Only), which flits between the courtroom – Jennifer Tipton’s yellow lighting subtly shifting in tone to mimic the changing time of day – and the peachy, sunset-drenched porch of the family home, with tree branches, period lights and doors sliding on and off stage seamlessly.
Sher’s production could have taken the contemporary angle of the story further without detracting from it as a period piece. Regardless, this To Kill a Mockingbird is a thoughtful, powerful retelling of Lee’s tale and one that deserves to hold its place on the West End stage for many years to come.
Tickets for To Kill a Mockingbird are available to book here
|What||To Kill a Mockingbird, Gielgud Theatre review|
|Where||Gielgud Theatre, 35 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 6AR | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Piccadilly Circus (underground)|
10 Mar 22 – 01 Apr 23, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£33 - 100+|
|Website||Click here for more information and tickets|