Review: To Kill A Mockingbird

For the quintessential British summer evening, look no further than the award winning Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – now in its 81st season. We can’t guarantee it won’t rain (this is England) and this year, temperatures are unseasonably chilly but the setting – a steeply raked auditorium with a 1,240 seating capacity slap bang in the middle of one of the capital’s prettiest parks – is simply magical.

So too is Christopher Sergel’s adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird – a coming of age tale which sees lawyer Atticus Finch, defend a black man falsely charged with the rape of a white girl in the Deep South of the thirties.

To Kill A Mockingbird at Regents Park Open Air Theatre (Photo: Johan Persson)

Timothy Sheader’s production of Harper Lee’s pulitzer prize winning novel is wonderfully staged: chalk, childlike, drawings on the ground reveal the world of six year old Scout, her older brother Jem and their imaginative friend Dill as they struggle to accept that their small Alabama town is steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy.

Hollywood headliner Robert Sean Leonard (he of House and Dead Poet Society fame) is a revelation as the linen suited lawyer, Atticus Finch. Leonard delivers his lines quietly but with conviction, achieving the impossible: for two and three quarter hours, he manages to make you forget Gregory Peck’s star performance in the 1962 film. Only the hardest of hearts would fail to moved by his summation, against the silhouette of a US flag, during the crucial second act courtroom scene.

Richie Campbell as Tom Robinson. Photo: Johan Persson

Leonard is ably supported by Richie Campbell as the real mockingbird in the case, Tom Robison, whose only crime is to feel sorry for a white girl and Simon Gregor as a despicably evil Bob Ewell. Credit must also go to the adult ensemble cast who pop up among the audience to read passages of narrative from the novel, reinforcing the fact that this is a story that resounds with us all.

Nonetheless it’s the child actors, which on the night I attended were played with warmth and humour by Eleanor Worthington Cox (Scout), Callum Henderson (Jem) and Sebastian Clifford (Dill), that steal the show. Their chemistry and charisma combine to remind us that the issues of racial prejudice and differences between the generations, remain just as prevalent today.

To Kill A Mockingbird at Regents Park Open Air Theatre (Photo: Johan Persson)

To Kill A Mockingbird runs until 15 Jun at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, NW1. Nearest tube: Baker Street (www.openairtheatre.com)