By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: *****
WHEN?: Saturday 12 March, opens 31 March, runs to 13 August 2022
RUNTIME: 180 minutes (including 20-minute interval)
‘We can’t go on like this,’ repeats Rafe Spall’s lawyer Atticus Finch during this hard-hitting rewriting of Harper Lee’s classic 1960 novel for the stage by Aaron (The West Wing) Sorkin.
- Read on for reasons including how this 5th preview audience all rose to their feet at the show’s conclusion
#AllRise is the hashtag chosen by this Broadway transfer and it proved apt at this 5th preview when the entire rose to its feet in recognition of a job well done at the show’s conclusion.
When we last saw Rafe Spall in London just over 2 years ago he fell off the stage yet it was still 1 of the best performances we’ve ever seen and tonight, in this preview of a controversial play of a beloved book, he delivered something completely different but just as memorable.
This production is controversial because author Sorkin has re-imagined the source material so 1930s Alabama lawyer Finch is the protagonist rather than his daughter Scout.
Finch is defending Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman who has actually made advances to him and is instead being abused by her father.
Robinson faces the electric chair unless the jury can be persuaded by his lawyer to confront a truth they may be too prejudiced to countenance.
Changes in this production include maid Cal, played by Nomvete fuelled by indignation, confronting Finch for his assumption that she should be grateful for him defending Robinson.
Much is made of Finch’s flaw being his sense of finding the best in everyone which annoys Cal given the injustice all around her while his own idealistic son Jem, a charismatic professional debut by Harry Redding, is infuriated by it and that change cannot come soon enough.
The racism of the book’s chief villain Bob Ewell, the abusive father at the centre of the legal case, is dialled up with his arguments about ‘race traitors’ striking a chord in an era of America electing Donald Trump as its President and perhaps even a Brexit-voting UK.
The presence of the 3 children onstage means we have multiple narrators and they provide stellar performances all around with Redding given a run for his money by a fiery Gwyneth Keyworth as Scout and an endearing David Moorst as Dill, who even gets to share a loving then bashful hug with Jem, as a character based on Truman Capote.
There was a lot of audience sobbing towards the end of this three-hour epic and while it packed a real emotional punch it never outstayed its welcome. Jude Owusu brings a predominantly quiet dignity to the role of Robinson.
The Broadway production on which this transfer is based closed in January starring Jeff Daniels and reopens on Broadway with Greg Kinnear as the lead in June.
We thought Spall’s performance was a slow burn but by the time of the final courtroom scenes his Finch was absolutely on fire.
Perhaps the most haunting and genuinelly uncomfortable scene was when hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan made their way through the audience in an attempt to lynch Robinson foiled by Finch with an unexpected intervention.
- Picture via Facebook courtesy To Kill A Mockingbird Tickets
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I’m glad you enjoyed this, I couldn’t take it and left at the interval. By my light, a Tarantino-esque makeover is about the last thing Lee’s story needed and all the devices highlighted approvingly above felt unecessary and distancing to the core relationships being developed.
A lot of people have seen and enjoyed Sorkin’s version and it’s undeniably up-to-date; just leave me out of it.
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