Venue: West Yorkshire Playhouse
I am rather ashamed to admit – as a student of English Literature – that I have never read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. However, after seeing her work presented on the stage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, it is certainly a novel that I will be reading over the Easter break.
The stage was set thoughtfully and creatively: at the very beginning, the chorus of narrators emerge from what seems like within the audience, and proceed to set the scene by describing the neighbourhood whilst simultaneously mapping it out with chalk on the stage floor. At first I was unsure about this, but as the play progressed I warmed to it as an innovative and creative way of setting a varied and complex scene within the small means that are given by the theatre.
Similarly, the stage setting itself was extremely effective. Everything revolved around the tree, which was the only fixed prop that remained on stage throughout the whole production. The effect of the setting really gave the audience a sense that you were sitting in Scout’s backyard with her in the deep south of America.
Clear attempts were made to make the production as realistic and engaging for the audience as possible. From the pungent smell of David Carlyle’s (Nathan Radley/ Mr Gilmer) cigarette as he waltzed around the court room to Christopher Saul’s (Walter Cunningham/ Judge Taylor) direct address to the audience as the jury, you really get the sense that as a member of the watching audience, you are in some way responsible for Tom Robinson’s conviction and the jury’s verdict.
The acting too was fantastic – in particular Daniel Betts (Atticus Finch) and Jemima Bennett (Scout) whose consistent emotion and connection to their characters throughout the play drove home the fundamental message that Lee sought to deliver to her audience. This was particularly apparent at the end of the play when Jemima Bennett (Scout) declares to Daniel Betts (Atticus Finch) that to expose Boo to the town would be “sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird” and Betts has no choice but to break down and embrace her.
The narration was also conducted in an extremely effective and enticing way. As the play began, I feared that there was potential for audience confusion as the narrators played one or two of characters within the play also. However, these fears soon subsided and the narration evolved coherently and clearly. The characters within the play are American, and thus the actors delivered their lines in a southern American accent. However, when delivering the narration, they spoke in their own English accents.
Nevertheless, the person that really stood out to me was Luke Potter, the production’s musician. Armed with nothing but a guitar, a ukulele and the dulcet tones of his own voice, he was able to create a fascinating atmosphere that (much like the setting) contributed to the feeling that you were within the deep south of America. This undoubtedly – for me, anyway – earned the play the excellent ratings that it has been given.
I thought that the director, Timothy Sheader, did a fantastic job in preparing his cast to present To Kill a Mockingbird. I would recommend it as a must see to anyone, even those who do not often visit the theatre, as it is a timeless piece of work that can still be related to, even now.