I Approached the recent adaptation of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ at Glasgow Theatre Royal with some trepidation, particularly after my recent blow of seeing Macbeth destroyed before me, as Mockingbird is one of my favourite books of all time and I couldn’t stand to have it ruined. Bracing myself as I walked into the theatre, I climbed the four flights of stairs to the tippy top balcony and wedged my legs into the allotted square inch of space available and took a minute to master the crippling vertigo that came from sitting in the fifth row of the balcony. Looking down; the stage had a row of chairs at each side, and a tree with a rope swing at the back of the stage, the set lined by backlit corrugated iron. The simple set was comforting, and the inclusion of the three through every scene gave a continuity emulating that of the book. They also used childish chalk drawings on the ground to represent various parts of Maycomb; the street, directions to the jail and other things, that were drawn by the entire cast in a wonderfully choreographed (not sure that’s the best word) way.
The play in fact opened with the entirety of the adult cast reading lines from the first few pages of the book. Each held a different edition of the book and read directly from it, a beautiful way of introducing the adaptation by acknowledging its origins. They read snippets from the book throughout, which helped to drive the narrative forward and added things that could not be otherwise shown in the production.
Many of the actors acted multiple parts in addition to their reading out of the novel and their characters were always clearly laid out, with each having different costumes and different accents depending on who they were playing. A brilliant case in point was the actor playing Judge Taylor, who not only played a booming Southern court judge, but a poor farmer, and his oration style was reminiscent of a Shakespearean training, and each time was dressed and acted differently.
Although not everyone’s Maycomb County accent was perfect, they all made an absolutely brilliant stab at it, particularly the two playing Scout and Dill, both of whom were making their theatre débuts. Atticus’s delivery of key speeches was utterly inspiring, and I did shed tears over his address to the jury during Tom Robinson’s trial, where the pacing was absolutely intense, the speeches beautiful yet still believable that he could be talking to his children. Miss Maudy’s and Calpurnia’s tones also deserve a special mention, especially during the ‘mad dog’ scene.
The accompanying original guitar songs and harmonica added to the atmosphere of the quiet southern town, they were well played and did not seem out of place, helping to mark transition points especially in the first half, which seems fairly fragmented, not building to the court scene, which is the main focus of the play adaptation. Atticus and the prosecution addressed the audience as if they were the jury, which was a nice touch.
Despite the momentary problem of the fence outside Boo Radley’s house not fitting into the ground, they carried off the whole opening night without a hitch, and indeed, the whole adaptation. The writing managed to both carry the style and tone of the original novel, whilst making it both humorous and engaging for a live audience. As someone who went in full of fear and doubts, I confess, I’m a convert. As Atticus says: “maybe you’ll look back on this with some compassion and some feeling that I didn’t let you down”, which I definitely will be able to do.