REVIEW: ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, to March 30th

Nigel Cooke as Atticus Finch (left) and Okezei Morro as Tom Robinson in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (Royal Exchange Theatre until 30 March). Photo - Jonathan Keenan

Nigel Cooke as Atticus Finch (left) and Okezei Morro as Tom Robinson in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (Royal Exchange Theatre until 30 March). Photo - Jonathan Keenan

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Christopher Sergel has produced a delightful and moving adaptation of Harper Lee’s iconic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, voted in the US as the best novel of the 20th century.

Christopher Sergel has produced a delightful and moving adaptation of Harper Lee’s iconic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, voted in the US as the best novel of the 20th century.

I have taught it to hundreds of students and have loved it for its humour and for its anti-racism. In addition, the film version, with the superb performance by Gregory Peck as the lawyer Atticus Finch, is one of my all-time favourites.

I wondered how Sergel and director Max Webster would convey the idea that this is a story told through the eyes of a child, Scout Finch. They succeed, by using moments of direct narration and helped by a stunningly effective performance from Shannon Tarbet as Scout. She is totally convincing and so too are Rupert Simonian as her older brother Jem and James McConville as Dill, their strange, imaginative friend.

I was amazed to discover that Dill is based on Harper Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote! Nigel Cooke makes a sympathetic but forceful Atticus, who risks all to defend a Negro, Tom Robinson (Okezie Morro), wrongfully accused of raping a white girl, the sad and frightened Mayella Ewell (Scarlett Brookes).

A strong supporting cast play neighbours, friends and those hostile to Atticus’ defence of a black man in 1930s Alabama, particularly Maudie (Nicola Sloane) and Heck Tate, the decent sheriff (Simeon Truby).

As always, the production skills of the Exchange team are impressive. The street where the children live and later the Courthouse are cleverly created and the music which accompanies the changing seasons and scenes add to the ambience and sense of time and place.

I came away feeling that I had had an enchanting and engrossing evening and quite uplifted, surprising in that the central episode of the trial is so sad, that an innocent man can be condemned simply for his colour. However, the story doesn’t end there and in the closing scenes, we have a chance to see the value of wisdom and kindness from Atticus, Maudie, Heck Tate and above all the strange, silent Boo Radley (Jonathan Keeble) and feel that Scout and Jem will grow up to try to make a better world.

Box office: 0161 8339833. Website: www.royalexchange.co.uk

PIPPA MUNRO HEBDEN