When it was announced To Kill A Mockingbird was coming to the Mayflower theatre, OntheScene jumped on the opportunity to witness the Harper Lee novel come to life. We sent an avid reader of the book along to see the show as well as a student who hadn’t read the book to get the shows full impact.
Despite living in Southampton for the past two and half years, this was my first visit to the Mayflower – and it certainly won’t be my last. I have always been an advocate of reading a book over watching a film (they rarely ever come close in comparison) and although I also love the film performance of To Kill a Mockingbird, I wondered how a theatrical interpretation would compare. I found myself nervously awaiting the performance of a book that is so close to my heart; a book I first read with my father at ten years old and I have read every year since, the first book I had read that so immensely impacted my perspective on the world. As it turns out, I needn’t to have worried.
The stage consisted of rusted fences around the edge, with wooden chairs and tables either side. Slightly right of centre stage was a large oak tree from which a tire swing was hung, and from where Jem (Harry Bennett) and Scout would later find hidden presents inside a hole in the bark. The actors ran on the stage, each with a different copy of To Kill A Mockingbird (I saw my version of it almost immediately!) to face the audience. They waited for silence before beginning the play with the opening quote of the book. As the words rung through the theatre, I could imagine them reading them on a page and I was instantly enthralled to see the story unravel visually before me.
The performance cleverly juxtaposed narration of the book with dialogue between the characters, combining a sense of story telling with a certain empathy you build with each character through the extraordinary acting of the cast. Despite some members of the cast playing more than one role, each one embodied the personality, behaviour and attitudes of every individual character as I had always imagined. Scout (Jemima Bennett) radiated the inquisitive feistiness, that I had very much related to as a child, and a special praise must be given to Jemima’s debut performance for incredible capturing Scout’s personality to a tee. Daniel Betts perfectly portrayed the calm, collected and civilised manner that epitomises Atticus Finch. It was like watching on stage the story I created in my head whenever I read the book.
There were many scenes, especially in the second half, which eloquently portrayed the difficult conflictions of the time. The polar oppositions between white and black race, children and adults, rich and poor were unsettling, yet very real, issues in Harper Lee’s original text and were powerfully approached with both sensitivity and creativity. During the court scene, the audience were spoken to as the part of the jury, which emotionally connected every person in the theatre with the story. Before Tom Robinson’s (Zackary Momoh) verdict was revealed, I found myself on the edge of my seat, teary-eyed, as though by some chance the play will turn out differently from the book.
This performance was the perfect portrayal of friendship, courage and moral. As the actors took their final bows, I was grinning from ear to ear, yearning to watch it all over again. Overall the portrayal made for a fantastic show and an absolute credit to such an important classic – a must-see for any Harper Lee fan or theatre lover.
“I remember reading the book to my son when he was at school, but I never found out how it ended. So when I saw it was coming to Southampton I was desperate to see it. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed, It was amazing.” – Brenda, Southampton, 44
“The guitar was an act of genius. It really transformed the show.” Phillip, Southampton, 50
“We are about to study it at (Wildern Secondary) school. So my stepdad brought me and my friend tickets. It’s amazing.” – Jack, Southampton, 14