Theatre review: To Kill A Mockingbird

Melissa York
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The Barbican’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird is an unorthodox triumph
Barbican | ★★★★☆

When great books are adapted for the stage, a great deal can be lost in translation: a couple told me during the interval, for instance, that after seeing a stage version of To Kill A Mockingbird, their son spent a fruitless afternoon in the library looking for “Tequila Mockingbird”.

There’s little chance of such a mix-up occurring as a result of this Regent’s Park Open Air revival at The Barbican, which puts the literature centre stage. Each member of the cast clutches a different edition of Harper Lee’s novel and they weave in and out of character – and various costumes – to read sections of it aloud.

Streets, houses and flowers are hastily scrawled across the floor in chalk and the audience is left to fill in the rest of Lee’s Alabama. It’s an effective tool, leaving six-year-old protagonist Scout Finch’s narration to wash over the audience with few distractions. Her voice is central to the story and the cruel racism of the Deep South is rendered even more absurd and brutal when experienced through the eyes of such an innocent. Before you know it, you’ve become enveloped in her worldview and the climatic trial is nothing short of devastating; it’s not often you hear sobs breaking out on the first night.

Mockingbird is not a story for the faint-hearted, but it remains one of the most darkly affecting explorations of America’s dark legacy of slavery. This unorthodox production’s success lies in using the communal nature of theatre to serve the story, rather than the other way around.

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