Theatre in Wales

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Masterly Production of a Literary Classic

At Theatr Clwyd

Clwyd Theatr Cymru- To Kill a Mockingbird , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , March 30, 2010
At Theatr Clwyd by Clwyd Theatr Cymru- To Kill a Mockingbird The skies above Maycomb, Alabama, in Tim Baker’s revival of his 2001 production, are coloured a gorgeous orange and mauve. Nick Beadle’s lighting turns the bright light of day to an evening of violets and shadey blues. When a lynch mob arrives outside the town gaol, spotlights focus in on the faces of the children, Amy Morgan’s Scout and Joshua McCord’s Jem, who boldly, albeit naively, disperse the crowd.

The cast of eleven never leaves the stage. When not centre-scene they are positioned across the set, a wrecked Depression-era car and a few boxes, with the sculptural studiedness of a composite Seurat.

Regular musical director Dyfan Jones has adorned the dialogue with spirituals sung in beautiful harmony. Sally Hague’s dialogue coaching has recreated a world where characters go out on the “poh-ooch” in front of the “we-erds.” They feel “bid-nuss” for “bitterness”, say “waa-ahn” for want and head for a “fah-eet” instead of a fight. The cast’s vocal work has the smack of authenticity throughout.

Lee Harper’s 1960 book is a literary monument, one of the best ever coming-of-age novels. In the USA there is not a week in which the 1990 play adaptation is not being performed. The courtroom sequence is built for theatre. The craft of the director creates it here with just a few wooden boxes. But the court sequence apart “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a novel that has had to be knocked and hammered into a serviceable shape for the stage. Thus, for all the prowess of the company, it has to carry the episodic nature of a novel. This translates into a choppy dramatic rhythm. Key plot points have perforce to be communicated to the audience by single actor narrative

Acting pleasures include Simon Armstrong’s Bob Ewell. With his matted hair, his tobacco-chewing, his head pushed forward, and the glint of cunning in his eyes he is the visual antithesis of Gwyn Vaughan Jones’ upright and steadfast Atticus. Rhian Blythe’s Mayella has the pinched voice and the downward-turned mouth of the truly desperate, equally a judicial predator as much as an unsavable social victim.

Oliver Wilson’s Tom Robinson has the genuine look of fear in his eyes. He is a man who knows his skin colour alone is guilt in the eyes of the court. A church meeting and fund-raising is led to ecstasy by the singing of Denise Orita’s Calpurnia. Richard Elfyn’s Heck makes the transition from the weedy sheriff who cannot put down a sick dog to a kind of moral grace at the close to protect the children. Alex Palmer’s prosecuting attorney Gilmer unleashes an unnerving display of disdain and insult. As the co-victim Helen Robinson is a smaller but crucial part and beautifully done by Eva Fontaine.

“To Kill a Mockingbird”is GCSE theatre, albeit gold standard. It both got and deserved a full house for its last night.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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