Yesterday we went to see Christopher Sergel’s adaption of Harper Lee’s novel at The Royal Exchange. Special thanks go to the lovely Phil and Pam who were able to get us some tickets!
Max Webster directs the play and the Manchester Evening News describes him as imbuing the screenplay with, ”pace and inventiveness”.
The Public Reviews gives the production 4.6 out of five, with Jim Gillespie’s review saying, ”This is a great story and a very good adaptation, there are some excellent performances, and it is well directed.”
I concur, it’s brilliant and here’s ten reasons why:
1. The Royal Exchange as a venue is great, as well as aesthetically different from traditional theatres. One of my friends described it as being, ‘like a Lunar Lander” which I think is pretty apt, especially if that Lunar Lander has come to rest in a Grade II listed, former cotton exchange.
2. The entire cast gave stellar performances, I was so impressed by the emotion they conveyed, especially given how close they were to the audience. Special hat tips, bows and curtseys to Rupert Simonian (Jem), Shannon Tarbet (Scout), James McConville (Dill), Joy Richardson (Calpurnia), Scarlett Brooks (Mayella), Okezie Morro (Tom Robinson) and Nigel Cooke (Atticus).
Photo by: Jonathan Keenan / Credit: Royal Exchange Theatre
3. If you’ve never been to the Royal Exchange before, it’s a circular theatre with a number of entrances around a central stage, as you can see in this panoramic shot. Really clever use was made of the space with actors entering and exiting through the various doors to generate a bustling atmosphere, as well as use of the main stage, additional floors and a balcony.
4. The production was very engaging; we were in the banquette seats at floor level with the actors, I could have reached out and touched them, which made you feel involved in the performance. I even had to move my legs a couple of times for fear of tripping them up! Actors walking off the set would even mumble or curse in character as they walked past you.
5. The production values were so high and the performance so intimate, you felt like you were inside a movie. This is in no way a slight on plays as a format, simply a testament to the actors and production overall that it had a finished feel that seemed over and above what you may ordinarily expect of a live performance.
6. The musical arrangement, costume and set design was brilliantly thought through; simple props and techniques were used cleverly and innovatively to make you feel like you were sat in Maycomb, Alabama.
7. They made it rain inside. Seriously.
8. It kept pace. The entire performance was a little over two hours including the interval, in the wrong hands the novel had the potential to be a long-winded and stagnate, but there was never a dull moment with passing time or seasonal changes depicted in dynamic and movement-filled readings supported by the rest of the cast.
9. Harper Lee’s moving tale of injustice, set in an era of racial inequality and told through the eyes of the loveable and innocent Scout, is known for being engrossing, thought-provoking and emotive. As a fan of the novel and 1962 film I was once again mesmirised by the story in this performance and genuinely moved by the court scene.
10. It made me think. It’s been a long time since I’d read To Kill A Mockingbird or seen the film and perhaps I’ve matured a little more as a person, but the injustice of Tom Robinson’s fate, the vicious, madness of the mob and the story’s poignant message stayed with me. When I got home I read through the programme, which featured a timeline of Harper Lee from her childhood to the present contextualised by the history of African-Americans struggle for equality and it filled me with sadness. It seems unbelievable now that some of the horrors that occurred back then ever did; and also quite incredible is the relatively short time that all this has happened in, less than a lifetime ago.
I went on to watch Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, which seemed more powerful and stirring then ever before. I think it’s really important we don’t forget what has happened in the past; and – whether it’s Harper Lee’s novel, Wilfred Owen’s poetry or this brilliant performance – works like this ensure that we don’t, while striking a emotional chord and generating a level of understanding for an era that no textbooks or history lessons ever could.
In short, if you have the opportunity I would highly recommend you go and see it! To Kill a Mockingbird runs till 30th March 2013. For tickets: Box office: 0161 8339833. Website: www.royalexchange.co.uk