Bookish Harper Lee Adaptation Honours Classic Novel
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
Harper's Lee first and — until recently — only novel celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010, but although it's more than half a century old, it continues to enchant and horrify in equal measures.
The stage adaptation by late Christopher Sergel — first run at Regent's Park back in 2013 — has arrived at Barbican, and we can't think of a better place for it. As we enter the theatre, we're struck by simple, yet detailed scenography: a black pavement with a few chairs, a bed, a fence and a big tree in its middle with a tyre swing hanging from it. The suggestion here is childhood innocence, but there's an eeriness too: a storm is brewing.
As the lights dim, the actors enter from the sides, reading passages from the novel — each carrying a different, personal copy of the book. Chalks in hand, they draw on the floor a map of of Maycomb, the small village in which the drama is about to unfold.
It's a hot, hot summer in 1930s Alabama. Six-year-old Scout (Ava Potter) and her 10-year-old brother Jem (Manuel Harlan) live with their widowed lawyer father Atticus Finch, and their housekeeper Calpurnia. The children spend their summer playing with new friend Dill, and spying on their creepy, clandestine neighbour Boo Radley. But soon the summer idyll is to be shattered, and their innocence challenged: the whole town is murmuring about their father defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a young white woman, Mayella Ewell.
This adaptation is loyal to the original story, and the acting — most of the actors have a strong, Southern accent — is intertwined with excerpts read aloud from the novel (a twist that we love). The entire performance is candid and innocent; the perfect reflection of Scout's point of view, from which the whole story is narrated.
The three young actors (Connor Brundish plays Dill) are the real force of the show: their performances are touching, vivid and absolutely charming. Plaudits must go to actor Robert Sean Leonard, who plays the role of Atticus Finch, embodying the tireless lawyer who truly believes in his principles.
The play's messages about human rights, classism, courage and loss of innocence are as potent now as ever. No wonder the author doubted she could ever better this tale.
Last Updated 03 July 2015