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To Kill A Mockingbird

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars
It was noted recently that, as poignant and heartfelt as Harper Lee’s 1960 depression-set novel concerning ingrained racism in America’s deep South remained, the idea that an accused black man would even be dignified with a trial in such circumstances was pure fantasy. Nevertheless, there had been a precedent in a real live trial in the 1930s and, arriving as it did with the rise of the American civil rights movement, Lee’s rites-of-passage tale struck a major chord. Given too the current global climate of intolerance, its present-day reverberations are obvious.

Michael Buffong’s touring production of Christopher Sergel’s 1970 stage adaptation stays faithful to Lee’s original without ever being compromised by the far better known film version. If anything, this collaboration between Birmingham Rep and West Yorkshire Playhouse is at times too solidly workaday.

With such a familiar set-text classic, though, it’s what’s left unsaid that stands out. As Atticus Finch, the small-town lawyer who defends poor, black Tom Robinson, Duncan Preston makes for a tetchier, more recognisably flawed role model than the one we’ve come to expect. There are hints too, in alleged victim Mayella Ewell and her brutish father Bob, both text-book depictions of trailer-park white underclass, of unspoken abuse. Such aspersions, however, are shielded, in both Lee’s and Sergel’s texts, from the innocent sensibilities of Atticus’s offspring, Scout, Jem, and their gawky friend Dill.

As for Boo Radley, the solitary gentle giant who saves the children from Bob’s vengeful knife, in today’s climate of kneejerk vigilanteism, its doubtful he’d be left as alone as he is in a still touching reminder that tolerance is an ideal some would rather corrupt.

The Herald, February 22nd 2007

ends

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