Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Emotionally and physically demanding

To Kill a Mockingbird

Clwyd Theatr Cymru , Sherman Theatre , October-30-01
The HOUSE FULL Signs were out! In the auditorium an exciting babble came from the largely young audience, the anticipation increased as we took in the simple beauty of Mark Bailey's set. The house lights went out and we saw a scared 'nigger' run about the stage, clearly in a panic, who we later discover is the desperately sad victim of the piece, Tom Robinson played with amazing reality and sensitivity by Enoch Frost, making his debut with the company.

The eleven strong company stood in profile against the hot South American sky and sang a very atmospheric overture. The set and the actors had the look of an aesthetic oil painting, which came to life as the story started to enfold. Step forward a most engaging and attractive 'child' who would totally captivate the whole audience for the whole of the play. Whilst every part in this play was acted to the highest level, former student of the Welsh College of Music and Drama, Catrin Rhys as the narrator and 'scout', daughter to lawyer Atticus bought us more joy than it might be possible to expect in any theatre performance.

Harper Lee's great novel is very well known and Gregory Peck's (one of my own strong acting influences) performance in the film won him the Oscar for best actor. We're in a court of law, in 1935, where a young black man is wrongly accused of raping a white girl, before an all white jury. From the very start we know the poor boy has no chance, despite the case for his innocence being so brilliantly made and so brilliantly recreated by Gwyn Vaughan Jones.

To my mind this actor was every bit as good as Gregory Peck. I have been accused of almost being a bit over effusive in some of my reviews. I hope I have balanced this by slating plays when I thought it necessary. (fortunately not very often) But I just write it as I see it and I have been watching plays for over fifty years! This production demonstrates that here in Wales we are able to put on to our stages world class work, yes I mean that world class! And still largely ignored by our national press. There were complex emotional experiences set before us on this stage as real and exciting as any thing in any film. If the papers celebrated our achievements in theatre as much as they go on about film more people would know about it and more seats would be filled and perhaps even, dare I suggest it, more newspapers may be sold. But I don't suppose the Editor of the Western Mail will be reading this review.

Sorry about that outburst but back to the play. The prejudice at the heart of the story encompasses universal themes as relevant today as they were then. Tim Baker's excellent direction places this comment on humanity as much in the world of today as in its own period. The music from Tim and Dyfan Jones along with the set and the most skilful lighting by Simon Corder give a very strong feel of the heat and light and atmosphere of early twentieth century South America.

At the root of the play is the eternal struggle between good and evil. Despicable evil was strongly personified by a horrible looking Simon Armstrong as Bob Ewell and blind prejudice agonisingly portrayed by Lucy Donovan as his 'raped' daughter. There were also very strong and committed contributions from Denise Orita as 'mammy' Calpurnia, John Biggins as Prosecutor Mr Gilmer, Jon Clairmonte as the Rev. Sykes, Maldwyn John as the pragmatic Sheriff, Simon Watts who as Jem partnered Catrin Rhys in her journey from child into young adult and a very tender performance from Tamara McKoy-Patterson, as the sad wife of the condemned man.
A visit to this play cannot be recommended too highly.
See it at:
Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon Nov 2 & 3.
Torch Theatre, Milford Haven Nov 8 & 9.
Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield Nov 13- 17.
Theatre Gwynedd, Bangor 20th Nov. Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Nov 22 - 24.
Theatr Hafren, Newtown Nov 27& 27.
Taliesin Arts centre, Swansea Nov 29 & 30.

An emotionally and physically demanding tour for all concerned but well worth it!

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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