Pros: This show boasts an intelligent set and some child starlets that outshine all the adults on stage.
Cons: A couple of times the microphones were turned up a little late. Also I was very cold by the end but really that’s the nature of the beast and not a criticism of the show.
Here at Everything Theatre we’re encouraged, strongly encouraged even, to consider the whole evening not just the actual performance. A rude box office and poor service at the bar can ruin your night, even if the greatest actors alive gave the performances of their careers that evening. Upon my arrival at the Open Air Theatre I was greeted with nothing but friendly professionalism and courtesy from all of their employees. As an outdoor space, the venue is one of the more picturesque of London’s theatres and set in the equally beautiful Regent’s Park, . There’s a unique harmony between the stark architecture of the theatre and the nature that surrounds it and I am always reminded of Titania’s bower whenever I set foot on the site.
The show To Kill a Mockingbird, the first of the five-show season running from May to September, is a classic GCSE text by author Harper Lee, and although I wasn’t required to read it at 16, it is well-known and popular story. Set in the deep south of North America during the great depression of the 1930s, it is a tale of a black man is being tried for the rape of a white woman. The story is told from the perspective of Scout, the young daughter of the lawyer nominated to defend the accused.
The young children who play Scout, her brother Jem and their friend Dill were particularly impressive. Symptomatic of the fantastic talent we have growing up in front of our eyes in the West End at the moment, a trend begun by Matilda at the Cambridge Theatre, these three starlets dazzle their way through the show with constant concentration even when the focus isn’t on them. They even outshine the strong adult cast, except perhaps Simon Gregor, who plays the ghastly Bob Ewell. Simply put, he was fantastic! He made Ewell really believable with traits and behaviours and gave us a wonderful evening of character acting. A really fantastic villain the audience loves to hate (put another way, if it was a pantomime I would have been hissing!). I imagine a big attraction to this show is Robert Sean Leonard who in recent years has been made famous for his pivotal role as Hugh Laurie’s best friend in House. Here he plays Atticus Finch and portrays the tired intellectual brilliantly, however his attempt at the slightly harder edge of Finch’s character isn’t necessarily as strong. For me, what was really touching in his performance was his relationship with the children; it was so warm, believable and nuanced and totally effective.
This being an outdoor theatre, lighting is usually kept quite simple, especially as daylight does most of the work for the first half. That being said, there was some successful bits of lighting used to exaggerate the mood on stage. The set is much simpler than I have seen in the past but lovely nonetheless, with the black stage set at a slight rake towards the audience. A tree growing out of the stage at the back on stage left is the only fixed piece of set and is utilised brilliantly for a number of scenes. Chalk is used to create the rest, as this is after all a child’s story. Their street is drawn out on the stage during the performance by the well-rehearsed cast.
All in all it’s a very well –thought out set and used creatively by the director. What was particularly effective was the use of the novel as a prop. Each cast member had his or her own copy and each copy had a different front cover. The cast placed these books at the front of stage right at the beginning and also at the interval, a reminder about how important Harper Lee’s book is in the 20th century canon.
Overall this show is well worth embracing the cold and wet to enjoy. Just make sure to take plenty of blankets, waterproofs and hot drinks – or a picnic if you’re pushing the boat out – and a thoroughly enjoyable evening is to be had at this venue with a strong show at its centre.
Adapted by: Christopher Segel
Director: Timothy Sheader
Box Office: 0844 826 4242
Booking Link: http://openairtheatre.com/whats-on?by=productions
Booking Until: 15th June 2013