Powerful evening's theatre

To Kill a Mockingbird by Chris Sergel, adapted from the novel by Harper Lee, at Sir John Mills until Saturday.If we had to change the father we got for a new one, many of us would happily settle for an Atticus Finch.

David Henshall

To Kill a Mockingbird by Chris Sergel, adapted from the novel by Harper Lee, at Sir John Mills until Saturday.

If we had to change the father we got for a new one, many of us would happily settle for an Atticus Finch. He's gentle, kind and just with a nice sense of humour but, above all, he's brave.

Oh, not with the gung ho bravery of the battlefield but as someone loaded with so much guts and moral courage that he will fight for the truth and the rights of his fellow man no matter what the cost. Even when he knows he cannot win.


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His daughter Scout, a tomboy 13-year-old who beats boys in fist-fights, thinks he's boring and so does her brother Jem, a couple of years older. Other kids' dads do exciting things but their lawyer pa does not. He reads a lot.

With their friend Dill, the youngsters ponder what bit of mischief to get up to in the depression-hit community of Maycomb one sunny day in the 1930s. Ideally, they'd like to get the mysterious Boo Radley out his house across the way. He was taken into the place 15 years ago and nobody has seen him since. But they know he's still there.

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Boo will figure importantly in their lives. But not today. Because this is when Atticus puts the cat among the Maycomb pigeons by deciding to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of beating and raping a white girl.

It's the electric chair if he's found guilty but he'll be lucky to get to court because there's a lynch mob on the loose, stirrred up by white-trash Bob Ewell whose daughter Mayella is the named victim of the attack.

It's not often that a play manages to capture the complete essence of a great novel but Sergel's adaptation comes pretty close and Gallery Players have seized on it with talented delight, cleverly manipulating a cast of nearly 30 players around the tight space.

What is more, on a cold November night they manage to reproduce the heat and racial bitterness of the pre-war American south that makes the courtroom scene so gripping as well as the sheer terror of the storm-racked night Bob Ewell comes looking for revenge.

James Hayward plays Atticus as to the legal manner born with confidence and quiet passion and one of the great pleasures of the piece is the assured, unselfconscious performances of the three young actors, Flora Charlton, James Dean and Robin Stafford.

Linda Wooldridge is the strong adult Scout, drifting in and out of the action as she recaps with loving care the frightening time when the innocent world of her childhood was torn away and Michael Clarke (Tom), Amy Restall (Mayella), Roger Jackman (Ewell) and Phil Cory (Mr Gilmer) are also impressive.

It is impossible to name everybody but it should be said there is not a weak link in the whole huge cast. They bring the play's fascinating gallery of characters vitally to life with good acting and positive bits of business in what is an exciting evening of theatre.

David Henshall.

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