To Kill a Mockingbird
The Tower Theatre
Reviewed – 25th October 2018
“does a good job of covering all bases, capturing a sense of small town life and effectively enforcing Lee’s message”
Widely read and studied to this day, the plot of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird needs no introduction. That being said, I’m going to introduce it anyway, just in case you (like me) were forced to study less interesting books like Of Mice and Men (sorry, John Steinbeck). Maycomb, Alabama, is a town where racism is a fact of everyday life – which is no surprise considering it’s the 1930s and the Jim Crow laws are still enforced. The politics of race isn’t something that Jem and Scout Finch are old enough to fully understand, but when their father Atticus is called to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of attacking a white woman, they are forced to confront it head on.
But, really, there is no adequate way to summarise To Kill a Mockingbird, because you’d inevitably miss things out. The worry is always that those adapting it will do the same, that they won’t do justice to its many themes, or neglect your favourite character. Whilst it is by no means perfect, Tower Theatre Company’s new production does a good job of covering all bases, capturing a sense of small town life and effectively enforcing Lee’s message.
The play is staged in the company’s new home in Northwold Road, Stoke Newington, which proves itself to be a versatile venue. The broad stage and high, beamed ceilings evoke the feeling of an old-fashioned courthouse in which old-fashioned attitudes are the height of modernity. Three wooden frames are redecorated to suggest different settings: Boo Radley’s house becomes the courthouse gallery, whilst Mrs Dubose’s front garden seats the judge. Visually, the production is slick and adds credibility to the action.
Tower Theatre Company are not a professional company, but many of their performances are of professional quality. Ruby Mendoza-Willcocks’ energetic and committed portrayal of Scout is a highlight. Mendoza-Willcocks perfectly captures her precocious innocence; she is entirely believable throughout. Emily McCormick, who gives a memorable performance as Scout’s friend Dill, provides welcome humour in the midst of tension. The courtroom scene, which is the highlight of the novel, is the highlight here, too, thanks to the quiet gravitas of Atticus (Simon Lee) and Tom (Jordan Duvigneau) and the contrasting anger of his accusers. They perfectly capture the injustice of the situation: Atticus’ direct address to the audience makes us complicit in Tom’s treatment and invested in his fate. Unfortunately other scenes are less evocative, as many of the supporting characters are hurried off stage before their presence can be felt. Additionally, the dialogue is sometimes hard to understand as the actors endeavour to maintain the fast pace.
This production serves to remind us of the beauty, depth, and power of Lee’s story, which is still as impactful today as it was sixty years ago. Despite the occasional slippage out of character (or, more frequently, out of accent), Tower Theatre Company have captured the heart of Lee’s novel and created a production that is as effecting as it is enjoyable.
Reviewed by Harriet Corke
Photography by Robert Piwko
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Tower Theatre until 3rd November